Every year, the World Health Organization marks the anniversary of its founding with World Health Day. The organization, which officially came onto the international stage on April 7, 1948, uses World Health Day to call attention to important health issues impacting a large portion of the world.
Topics for World Health Day vary considerably, reflecting the vast number of health problems and related factors in an increasingly globalized environment. In past years, World Health Day focused on aging, high blood pressure and vector-borne diseases. Today, the WHO is highlighting depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is a “mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” The condition changes the way people feel and behave, touching many areas of emotional and physical health. More than 300 million people suffer from depression, according to the WHO. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of affected individuals increased more than 18 percent. It is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. While mental health conditions can frequently be seen as a problem for the Global North, middle and low-income countries actually bear more than 80% of the disease burden.
The WHO’s tagline for World Health Day is “Let’s talk,” encouraging a global audience to have conversations about the causes, risks and treatment of depression. Clinicians don’t know the exact cause of depression, according to Mayo, but hormones, changes in brain chemistry and genetically inherited traits can play a role in the condition.
Outside the body, factors like traumatic events and social stresses can trigger or lead to the development of depression. Risks include poverty, unemployment, physical illness, problems caused by alcohol and drug use and difficult life events, like the loss of a loved one.
Campaign materials from the WHO emphasize that depression is not a weakness, can affect anyone and should be treated. An open approach to depression is key to addressing the issue. People suffering with the symptoms are often hesitant to come forward because stigma surrounding mental health conditions still exists in many countries. Adopting a more informed and understanding look at mental health disorders could increase proper diagnoses and get individuals the treatment they need, whether it is medication, talking therapy or another type of therapy.
For those who are depressed or think they may be depressed, the WHO recommends talking about their feelings, keeping connected with family and friends and reaching out for help. At Northwestern University, students can reach out to CAPS or connect with a trusted figure to seek assistance.
Around the world, individuals should take interest in others, and notice any loss in energy, changes in habits or statements of worthlessness that may indicate their friend or family member has depression. Communities should recognize the strain mental health conditions place on their members and advocate for better resources to assist and treat disorders and more information to help reduce any stigmas.
Additionally, it is important to address outside factors that exacerbate depression. Northwestern Global Health professor Noelle Sullivan calls specific attention to the world economic conditions that result in increased cases of depression in her piece for truthout. Advocacy should also be directed to removing social and economic burdens on populations worldwide to combat this issue. World Health Day challenges people throughout the globe to more thoughtfully consider their health and the health of the global community. Through education and action, the Northwestern community can observe World Health Day, changing the outlook on depression and becoming better global citizens.