April 7 is World Health Day, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO observes the day by mobilizing around a specific health issue that affects people around the world. This year’s campaign focuses on depression. In recognition of World Health Day, Pass It Forward will be highlighting companies and civil society organizations that support programs for people suffering from depression and other health issues.
Medical professionals define depression as “an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities…accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. [P]eople with depression normally have several of the following symptoms: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.”
As part of its campaign to raise awareness about depression and to encourage people to talk about it, the World Health Organization published some facts about this illness. They include the following:
* In humanitarian emergencies and ongoing conflict, as many as 1 in 5 people are affected by depression and anxiety.
* More women are affected by depression than men.
* Depression in women following childbirth can affect the development of newborns.
* In many countries of the world, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression do not get treatment.
* Death by suicide caused by depression is now the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-29.
* Lack of treatment for common mental disorders has a high economic cost: new evidence from a study led by WHO shows that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost more than a trillion dollars’ worth of economic loss every year.
According to the World Health Organization, 300 million around the world suffer from depression. Depression affects people in developing nations and developed nations, in rural communities and urban ones. It affects people in active war zones and it also affects people in places that have relative peace and stability.
Here are some examples of organizations and programs that address depression and mental health under these various conditions.
Pakistan: Problem Management Plus (PM+) is a WHO program delivered by lay health workers to 346 adults living in conflict-affected Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the two-year trial program showed significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) in participants. It helped participants to recover and maintain healing from debilitating psychological distress. The program is administered in primary care centers where trained lay health workers facilitate weekly individual sessions that include strategies like problem-solving, behavioral activation, strengthening social support, and stress management. WHO is exploring how to expand the PM+ program into other conflict-affected regions.
India: Sangath is an NGO based in Goa. Founded in 1996, Sangath evolved from an initial focus on professional clinical services to a focus on training ordinary people and community health workers to provide talk therapy to rural people suffering from depression. This evolution happened when the professional clinicians who started Sangath noticed the very low rate of follow-up among rural people who came to receive traditional clinical services. NPR reported last year that health researchers around the world are studying the success of Sangath’s training model for rural communities, which has now trained over 100 lay counselors
United States: Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) is a grassroots nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California. CERI was founded by a group of bilingual and bicultural mental health professionals to provide culturally competent multi-layered services to refugees affected by war, torture, genocide, and other extreme traumas. In addition to first-generation refugees (i.e., people who were born outside the U.S. and left their native countries as adults), CERI also serves second-generation members of these refugee families (i.e. people who were either born in the U.S. or left their native countries as children). This is because the subsequent generations who did not live through war, torture, or genocide are nevertheless impacted by those traumas that their parents and grandparents suffered. Through programs like Apsara’s Warriors, an early intervention program for Cambodian-American children and youth, CERI works to empower young people experiencing the effects of inherited/intergenerational trauma.
Do you know of any other organizations or programs that address depression and mental health? Tell them about Pass It Forward and encourage them to list their projects so that others may support their work!