Joint statement by Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, on World Health Day 2017
7 April 2017
Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and can impact on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks. Untreated depression can prevent people from working and participating in family and community life.
At its worst, depression can lead to suicide - a significant cause of death in many EU countries. Although depression is more common in women, death rates from suicide are on average almost four times higher in men, especially those in lower income groups (1).
Depression is common - one in 20 people in the European region currently live with depression, and one in four of us will suffer a depressive episode at some point in our lives. Unsurprisingly, the risk of depression and related conditions such as anxiety disorder are greatly increased through exposure to violence, conflict or forced migration. There is no shame in depression. We must not sweep it under the carpet or allow stigma to prevent people seeking help. We must talk about it!
On this year's World Health Day, we are shining a spotlight on depression. Our message is: "let's talk!"
If you are depressed, talking about it with someone you trust can be a first step towards recovery. But the talking must happen also on a broader scale - among policy makers, teachers, employers, healthcare professionals, family members, friends, colleagues. We must be clear about the role that each one of us can play in preventing, identifying and treating depression. After all, homes, schools, workplaces and healthcare settings can all have a protective effect on mental health.
As our first institution, schools have a major role to play in preventing and spotting depression and in teaching resilience. Depression in children and adolescents can cause isolation, poor academic outcomes and increase the risk of other mental health disorders. EU co-funded initiatives, such as the SUPREME project (2) demonstrate that interventions within schools can reduce symptoms of depression. For ideas on how schools can support the well-being of their pupils, see the recommendations for actions in schools (3) produced by the EU co-funded Joint Action for Mental Health and Well-being. Given that depression is the leading cause of sick leave and productivity loss in most developed countries, employers have a significant interest in fostering a work culture that is protective of mental health. Workplaces can be an aggravating factor in stress, depression and burn-out. We are therefore pleased to see an increasing willingness by organisations to not only intervene when a colleague is clearly depressed, but also to put in place prevention strategies and programmes. See the EU Joint Action's recommendations (4) for ideas for action in your workplace (1).
In recent years, we have seen the emergence of digital tools for treating mental health problems. It may seem counterintuitive to not always include human contact in the treatment of depression. However, it has been found that e-mental health can remove barriers for individuals who prefer anonymity and privacy, and can therefore improve access to care (5).
There are many more resources available for individuals, schools, workplaces and healthcare facilities to learn more about how they can help. The World Health Organisation's toolkit (6) for those who wish to organise awareness-raising events, a series of Let’s Talk campaign handouts (7) and the "Good Practices in Mental Health and Well-being" (8), collected by the Commission funded EU-compass (9), are but some of the tools available.
Depression is a treatable condition, yet 3 out of 4 cases of major depression do not receive minimally adequate treatment. We must do better. We are both committed to keeping depression high on the agenda. In 2017, the Commission's activities on mental health will focus on mental health at work, in schools and the prevention of suicide. WHO will focus on providing governments with the materials and technical support to establish or increase services for people with depression, and working with partners to integrate support for depression into their programmes of work.
Today, on World Health Day, we urge everyone to talk about depression and seek solutions in areas where we can make a difference – in our classrooms, in our offices, in our friendship groups. Let's talk about depression not just today, but tomorrow and the day, the month, and year after that, and let's all reach out and make a difference in someone's life.