World Health Day consultation calls for greater attention to depression

To commemorate the World Health Day 2017, the World Health Organization Country Office for India and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, jointly organised a national consultation on 7 April 2017 at New Delhi. The consultation called for increasing awareness and greater attention to mental health issues, especially depression.

The theme of the World Health Day 2017 is Depression: Let’s Talk. The overall goal of the campaign is that more people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help.

Speaking at a national consultation, Mr J.P. Nadda, Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare stated that the aim of the ministry is to ensure implementation of the Mental Health Policy in letter and spirit, and focus is also on working with civil society organizations. “As part of its renewed strategy for mental healthcare services, the government is strengthening Primary Health Centres and Community Health Centres,” he said.

“Depression is an issue that needs to be heard. It can affect anyone at any stage of life, impacting relationships, work and social interactions, and impeding our ability to live life to its fullest. Depression can be managed and overcome,” says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

In his address, Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India said, “Being the single largest cause of morbidity globally, depression is not only a public health issue — it concerns each one of us. All of us are stakeholders. The first step towards treatment and recovery is talking to a person you trust.”

“While the government legislates and creates an enabling environment, the onus is on each one of us to reach out, be it a friend, a colleague, a neighbour or family and make a difference, even save a life. It is equally important for patients to seek help when depressed,” added Dr Bekedam.

In this context, Dr Bekedam highlighted three recent developments that augur well for India in the area of mental health: The National Health Policy 2017 prioritizes mental health services as a component of addressing noncommunicable diseases; Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat address spoke at length on how to prevent and manage depression, and the path-breaking Mental Health Care Bill 2017, which decriminalizes attempt to suicide and has a rights-based approach.

The World Health Day event was also graced by Mr Faggan Singh Kulaste, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare; Ms Anupriya Patel, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare; Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research and Secretary, Department of Health Research; Prof. Jagdish Prasad, Director General Health Services, MoHFW; Dr Arun Panda, Additional Secretary and Mission Director, National Health Mission, MoHFW; Mr Sanjeeva Kumar, Additional Secretary, MoHFW; and Mr Lav Aggarwal, Joint Secretary, MoHFW.

As a part of the World Health Day event, a panel discussion was organized to deliberate on different facets of depression and highlight areas that need urgent attention.

On the occasion, WHO Country Office for India also honoured five Public Health Champions who have made substantial contribution to public health in the country: Dr Chandrakant S. Pandav, Lok Biradari Prakalp, CanSupport and Armman. Dr Vandana Gopikumar (The Banyan) received the award for exemplary work in the area of mental health.

Depression is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for 14 days or longer. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression globally, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. In India, the total number of people living with depression is over 56 million, about 4.5% of total population (2015).

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