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National Day Against Depression: Understanding, supporting and breaking down stigma

Introduction:

National Anti-Depression Day, celebrated annually on 23 February, when health professionals and other authors, seek to raise awareness of depression among the general public, foster understanding and promote mental health. The day provides an opportunity to dispel stereotypes, encourage open conversations and mobilise efforts to destigmatise mental health issues. Depression is a common and complex mental disorder that affects millions of people around the world. It can occur in people of all ages, regardless of social status and gender.

Understanding depression:

Depression is more than just a feeling of sadness; it is a mental health disorder (not a mental illness!) that can negatively affect everyone’s thoughts, emotions and daily functioning. It is estimated that around 1.2 million people in Poland suffer from depression. Data from the National Health Fund (NFZ) indicate that in 2021, 682,000 people were provided with services with a main or coexisting diagnosis of depression. It manifests itself in a variety of forms and symptoms, including from persistent sadness (apathy) to loss of interest in activities (anhedonia), lack of strength and energy for life (anergia), changes in appetite and sleep patterns and difficulty concentrating attention. The causes of depression are multifaceted and include genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. There are numerous hypotheses attempting to explain the causes of depression. One of these is the inflammatory hypothesis of depression, which, in a nutshell, postulates the important involvement of inflammation in the pathogenesis of depression. Inflammation, as is well known, can be triggered by a number of factors, including an unhealthy diet – containing high amounts of processed foods, simple sugars, or saturated fats and -trans fats.

The global burden of depression:

Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting people of all ages, backgrounds and socio-economic status. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and the prevalence of the condition is steadily increasing. The economic and social burden associated with depression is significant, affecting productivity, relationships and overall wellbeing. Depression is a very common cause of work absenteeism and sick leave.

Breaking down stigma:

One of the main challenges associated with depression is the persistent stigma associated with mental health. Stigma can deter individuals from seeking help, hinder social support and perpetuate misconceptions about mental illness and disorders. National Anti-Depression Day aims to break down these barriers by supporting open conversations, challenging stereotypes and promoting empathy.

Promoting mental health awareness:

Education plays a key role in combating the stigma associated with depression. By promoting mental health awareness, individuals can better understand the signs and symptoms of depression, recognise when someone may be struggling and offer support. Schools, workplaces and communities can contribute to mental health education to create healthy, appropriate environments that prioritise wellbeing, healthy social relationships, health, including mental health.

The role of politics:

A country’s policies are a powerful tool in the fight against depression on a global scale. National Depression Awareness Day serves as a catalyst for political action to, among other things, increase funding for mental health initiatives and promote research into effective treatments for mental disorders and illness. Politicians, patient advocates and other officials are working to ensure that mental health is integrated into healthcare systems and that people struggling with depression have access to appropriate resources and support. In the current era, community-based mental health care is coming to the fore.

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health:

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges, with increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported worldwide. Lockdowns, social isolation, economic uncertainty and fear of illness have taken a toll on people’s mental wellbeing. National Anti-Depression Day is an opportunity to acknowledge these challenges, share coping strategies and reinforce the importance of mental health support in these challenging times.

Encouraging open conversations:

Creating an environment that supports open conversations about mental health is key to reducing stigma. On World Depression Day, individuals and organisations are encouraged to share personal stories, engage in discussions and use social media platforms to raise awareness. By fostering a culture of openness and understanding, we can help break down the barriers that stop people from seeking help.

Seeking professional help:

While widespread awareness and education are essential, seeking professional help from an individual who is struggling with mental health issues is often a key step in the fight against depression. Mental health professionals, including therapists, counsellors, psychologists, coaches and psychiatrists, as well as specialists in other medical fields, play a key role in providing effective treatment and support. National Anti-Depression Day highlights the importance of easier access to mental health services and encourages people to seek help without fear of judgement or other, often stereotypical, negative consequences.

Building resilience and support systems:

Building mental resilience, keeping the body healthy and fit – in line with the Latin maxim mens sana in corpore sano, proper sleep hygiene, taking care also of proper supplementation (e.g. vitamin D3) are important aspects in the context of mental health and its maintenance…. National Anti-Depression Day promotes the development of strong support systems in families, communities and workplaces. By nurturing family bonds, friendships, providing emotional support and promoting ‘self-care’ practices, people experiencing mental health difficulties, including those suffering from depression, can better cope with the challenges of everyday life.

Conclusions:

National Day Against Depression is a good opportunity to provide a clear reminder that mental health is a vitally important issue and a global cause that requires the collective efforts of societies. By striving to better understand the person suffering from depression, showing empathy and appropriate proactive action, breaking down stigma, advocating for mental health and supporting open conversations, we can create a world where people struggling with depression feel effectively supported, empowered and have access to the resources they need. Together, we can work towards a future where mental health is treated with greater priority and the negative impact of depression on our lives and the lives of those around us is significantly reduced.

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