Estimates from WHO indicate that globally, the number of people with depression exceeds 300 million in 2018. Depression is ranked by WHO as the single largest contributor to global disability (7.5 per cent).
A February 2017 WHO report ranked Uganda among the top six countries in Africa with the highest number of people suffering from depressive disorders. The report says 1.7 million (4.6 per cent) Ugandans suffer from depressive disorders.
Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, and poor concentration.
As we appreciate the subject, it is important to differentiate between normal sadness and depression. Under adverse conditions like death of a relative, personal humiliation, disappointment, loss of social status, even financial loss, a psychological response is expected and could, of course, result into sadness.
The symptoms of depression are known to cause people significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of life. However, many people still mistakenly view these symptoms or the desire to get treatment as signs of weak character, lack of fortitude, or an inability to pull oneself up by the bootstraps (Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, 2011).
In fact, WHO announced in March 2017 that rates of depression have risen by more than 18 per cent since 2005, but lack of support for mental health, combined with a common fear of stigma, means many people do not get the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.
Studies have revealed that the prevalence of depression is higher in women than in men and is the main cause of disability in women. Some experts, however, believe that depression is under-reported in men, perhaps because men may be less likely to talk about feelings and seek help for mood disorders.
While some people idealise childhood, in reality, children may feel shaken by developmental changes and events over which they have little or no control. At Every Child Ministries Uganda (a local NGO) we handle more than 250 children/teens and we have consistently observed that those with adverse childhood experiences including abusive family history, vulnerable physical health, living on streets and slums of Kampala, continue to face several episodes of depression.
In older people, depression may occur in conjunction with other illnesses that mask the depressive symptoms. Many times, health care professionals treat the medical illness and overlook the depression.
WHO Global Health Estimates have revealed that depression is the major contributor to suicide deaths around the world, standing at 800,000 per year.
Worse still, majority of the people in need of treatment for depression do not receive it due to lack of information about the illness. By 2015, Uganda was reported to have only 30 practicing psychiatrists serving a population of more than 36 million people.
It is therefore important for the government of Uganda and other stakeholders to increase access to services and provide the necessary support for people with depression in communities. United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example has gone ahead to create a Ministry of State for Happiness and Wellbeing which purposely oversees government plans, programmes and policies to achieve a happier society.
While these challenges are substantial, there is an opportunity for a new kind of response to mental health need. It is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder.