In this day and age, almost all of us know someone dealing with depression. But how widespread a problem is depression? And what can you do to help someone suffering from it?
The Depression Epidemic
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression affects over 300 million people across the globe. It is the leading cause of disability and a big contributor to developing other illnesses.
The WHO has linked depression to issues with substance abuse – some depression sufferers attempt to self-medicate with alcohol or narcotics – as well as diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Then of course there is the risk of suicide, which claims some 800,000 lives each year. This figure might seem low but if we put it into context the facts are startling. Take Singapore, for example, which averages over one suicide a day. In the Garden City, suicide is the top cause of death among 10- to 29-year-olds and claims 2.4 times more lives than traffic accidents.
Despite the prevalence of depression and its myriad associated health risks, there are still many countries which have little to no support for people with mental health issues.
In fact, even in wealthy developed countries only half of depression sufferers receive treatment, dropping to less than one-tenth in poorer nations.
The reasons for this include a lack of resources, not enough mental health professionals, and the social stigma attached to having a mental illness. On average governments spend only 3% of their total health budget on mental health care.
The bad news does not end there. Depression is not just a global problem, it’s an epidemic, one that is growing. Between 2005 and 2015 the number of people with depression worldwide increased by 18%.
However, it is not all doom and gloom, the silver lining is that you can be a positive and active force in helping someone with depression.
What You Can Do
‘R U OK?’ is an Australian organisation that promotes awareness about depression and encourages reaching out, asking someone how they are doing and having meaningful conversations with them about how they are coping.
Doing this can help to ease the mental and emotional burdens that weigh people down and to reinforce the fact that they are not alone in their struggle. This is doubly beneficial as depression is often a lonely experience because, as previously mentioned, many sufferers do not get treatment.
Thankfully R U OK? have a useful set of guidelines to instruct you on how to go use their four-step process to reach to family members or friends with depression.
The first step is asking someone sincerely how they are doing with a simple ‘What’s been happening?’ for example. You can also mention something about them that concerns you: ‘You haven’t seemed quite yourself these days, how are things going?’
The second step is listening. Do not interrupt them. Let them take their time to tell you what is on their mind. Take what they say seriously. Do not judge. Repeat back to them what they have said to you so they know you are listening. Encourage them to explain themselves by using phrases such as ‘How do you feel about that?’ or ‘How long have you felt this way?’
Thirdly, you should encourage action. Ask them how they have dealt with similar situations in the past or how you can support them. If they have been feeling low for two weeks or more, encourage them to seek professional advice.
Last but not least, make sure to check in on them. Make a note in your calendar to follow up on your conversation with them in a couple of weeks. Ask how things are progressing and if they have taken any action. If they have not, do not judge them for it, they might need you to listen some more.
Bridge the Gap
Genuine care and concern can go a long way towards helping someone with depression. Just knowing that there is someone who is ready and willing to listen to their problems and talk to them without judgement can be comforting and make a real difference.
We all have times when we need a helping hand but feel like we cannot ask for it. Do what you would want someone to do for you, bridge that gap and offer your hand to someone who is feeling down.
As comedian, actor and writer Stephen Fry once said, ‘It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.’