World Health Day – celebrated on 7th April every year to mark the founding of the World Health Organisation. The theme for this year was ‘depression – let’s talk’.
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 of everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds on the planet and the main cause of death in a man under the age of 45 in Western Europe.
Yet, depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of what depression is, and what we can do to prevent and treat it, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following symptoms: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
I remember my own experience of severe depression, in 2003 when my first business went into liquidation. I had lost everything at the age of 27. Money, car, the people I considered to be my closest friends as well as discovering my partner at the time was cheating on me. I slipped into depression. I found myself in a deep dark valley in my life. I locked myself away from the world, stop caring about myself, often just sitting around my house watching TV or staring at the ceiling. I was sleeping for 12-14 hours a day, not eating and losing weight, feeling like a complete failure, and experiencing such great emotional pain that I eventually sought the ultimate permanent solution to what was merely a temporary problem. When I failed at my attempt at taking my own life I had hit rock bottom and thankfully that ended up becoming the catalyst that turned my life around and eventually lead me to setting up The Stress Management Society.
In my experience, because of pride and insecurity I didn’t feel I could ask for help or talk about my experience and how I felt. However that would have been an effective and powerful way for me to make sense of my experience and find a way out of it. As they say a problem shared is a problem halved and that is why it is so important for line managers to be the first line of support. This is why I am so glad the campaign slogan for this year is: ‘Depression: let’s talk’ – hopefully this will stimulate engagement for managers to empathise, engage and support their people.
Over 300 million people globally are now estimated to suffer from depression, with it being more common among females(5.1%) than males (3.6%). With an increase in depression levels of 18.4% between 2005 and 2015, it is now more likely than ever that you are working alongside or with people suffering from depression. So why is it then than when depression is so prevalent, it is still considered taboo to talk about it and ask for help from colleagues and line managers?
It is odd that depression is not discussed in more depth when you consider that 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental health condition in any given year. But it can be difficult both for the person suffering from depression to report the issue, and also for their managers to know how to handle it. The person suffering from depression may have difficulty reporting it as they feel like it is seen as an inability to cope, and therefore that it will hinder their progression. From the other side, managers and even HR are often not trained to deal with mental health issues or to understand what someone maybe be going through, and lacking the skills and confidence to tackle it they may end up burying their head in the sand.
Ultimately the best way to remove the taboo around depression and mental health is by opening up, talking about it and creating a culture of acceptance and support. With the cost of replacing staff lost due to mental health conditions reported to be £2.4bn per year in the UK alone, it makes sense for employers to help their employees combat the illness, even if the motivation is financial or just to mitigate risk exposure. The first step is to ensure there are robust policies and procedures and adequate mental health awareness training.
That is why we are proud to now offer Mental Health First Aid training. If you would like to train your teams to understand more about mental health, to pick up the early signs and symptoms, be equipped with the skills and confidence to act as an effective first line of support, this is something you should consider for your organisation.
For more information on Mental Health First Aid, click here.
Let’s work together to eradicate the needless suffering and loss of life caused by depression, and ensure we are creating a culture where it is ok to talk about your worries and seek out help and support without that being viewed as a sign of weakness.
Asking for helping and talking about your emotional state is a sign of strength. I am glad I survived my experience and am able to share it for the benefit of others.
Chief De-stressing Officer
Tel: 0203 142 8650