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World Health Day 2017: Why the WHO chose depression as its focus this year

Diabetes, food safety, superbugs – those are just some of the past themes officials picked as World Health Day initiatives. But this year, for 2017, the World Health Organization is focusing on depression.

“Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living,” the WHO said on its website.

Its goal is to make the general public more aware of depression, its causes and that it can be treated.

READ MORE: What happens when mental health education isn’t taught to kids

“We need to make mental health a priority for 2017 because no one is immune to mental illness. Everyone is affected directly or indirectly so we’re all responsible to do something about this,” Dr. Katy Kamkar, a Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) registered psychologist, told Global News.

Here’s a look at the WHO’s key messages for this year’s World Health Day.

Who the World Health Organization is targeting in its messaging

About one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.

This is why the WHO says its campaign applies to everyone. It’s zeroing in on three categories, though: adolescents and young adults, women of childbearing age (particularly after giving birth) and adults over the age of 60.

READ MORE: Ontario schools are missing ‘perfect opportunity’ to address mental health amid rash of youth suicides

The WHO notes that the risk of becoming depressed is increased by poverty, unemployment, life events, such as death of a loved one or a relationship breakup, for example.

It’s not just feeling sad

Toronto-based registered psychologist, Dr. Oren Amitay, suggests that some people think depression is akin to moments of sadness that they’ve pulled themselves out of, but it’s deeper than that.

“Depression is not just feeling sad amplified, it’s a whole different ball game,” he explained. Incessant feelings of sadness, hopelessness or loneliness are just one of the symptoms. In other instances, it affects peoples’ mental, physical and emotional state: they lose their appetite, they can’t sleep properly, they feel worthless, they isolate themselves or they can’t even get out of bed.

READ MORE: How mental health should be taught in Canadian schools

Kamkar said depression could come with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and anxiety.

“Depression causes mental anguish and can impact on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends,” the WHO says.

It’s not always obvious to friends and family

While some people suffering from depression can exhibit warning signs, such as weight loss, changes to physical appearance, agitation or lethargy, others may not show that anything’s wrong at all.

“Some people are good at compartmentalizing – being able to put aside feelings or thoughts in the moment and attend to the task at hand,” Amitay explained.

READ MORE: Major depression is on the rise in youth, especially teenage girls

“But alone at home, in the dark, when there’s no distractions, that’s when the nightmares start coming in,” Amitay said.

If you suspect your loved one may be going through depression, it’s OK to ask, Kamkar and Amitay say. Don’t be dissuaded or think that you’re making things worse by checking in on a friend or family member.

“We want to combat the stigma attached to mental illness by talking about it. Just like if someone approaches us with a physical illness, you listen, show empathy, acceptance and understanding,” Kamkar said.

READ MORE: The No. 1 mental health issue Canadian employees take time off work for

“Just act tactfully, carefully and respectfully. The greatest thing someone can do is talk to them. You don’t have to have depression to understand, you’re not giving advice or trite statements,” he said. Telling your relative that things will get better may not be consoling, but listening and letting them know they have your support goes a long way,” Amitay said.

Getting help is key

Depression can be effectively prevented and treated, the WHO says. Treatment usually involves either therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two.

Plenty of resources are available, Kamkar said. There’s mental health care, psychotherapy, medication and other viable options. In Ontario and many parts of Canada, health care could cover off expenses for therapy or drugs, but there are also resources that won’t cost you any money at all.

READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns

Distress centres, help phone lines and even emergency room counsellors are on hand to help you, the experts say.

Prevention is key: 70 per cent of all mental health illnesses start in childhood and adolescence. Early intervention helps to introduce coping strategies, awareness of triggers and other ways to manage mental well-being.

“If you’re able to get help for your mental illness, the outcomes are very good,” Kamkar said.

Read more about World Health Day.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

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