Life in general is tough due to many challenges and hurdles that we need to overcome in order to fulfill our dreams and become our ideal selves. However, it can be tougher than it should be if we find ourselves suffering from debilitating mental illnesses such as depression, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) describes as a common mental disorder whose symptoms include persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that a person normally enjoys, accompanied by inability to carry out daily tasks for at least two weeks. According to the WHO, depression affects more than 300 million people around the world and is the leading cause of disability.
There are several stressful events that are believed to trigger depression e.g. illness, bereavement, relationship problems, suffering from any form of abuse, social isolation, financial problems, failure, etc. However, it is important to note that even successful individuals who may look happy in the eyes of the public can suffer from depression. For example, in June, singer Janet Jackson opened up about her ‘intense’ battle with depression in the past, despite her successful music career. A number of other notable people e.g. Beyonce, Dwayne Johnson, Halle Berry, Oprah, Trevor Noah, Tyrese and others have also admitted to suffering from depression at some point in their lives.
Depression, an important risk factor for suicide, was previously thought to be a problem of wealthy countries based on the number of diagnosed cases. However, research shows that this is not the case. The WHO reported that more than 78% percent of global suicides came from middle- and low-income countries in 2015. This may be a better indicator of the prevalence of depression than the number of diagnosed cases. Millions of people from middle- and low-income countries suffer from depression, although in many cases it is never diagnosed or treated due to lack or inaccessibility of treatment facilities and/or disinclination to seek treatment due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses.
In South Africa, July is Mental Illness Awareness Month, a good time to take the first step towards getting psychiatric help if you suffer from depression or another mental illness. According to a report by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), there has been an increase in the number of suicides in the country, with 23 South Africans committing suicide every day. Suicide is said to be the second and fastest growing cause of death among those aged 15-24. The number of reported suicides among college students, which has been attributed to stressful campus environments, has also increased in the past few years. According to SADAG, about 20% of all South Africans will suffer from a depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. Following these alarming stats, there have been calls to improve mental health awareness and accessibility of support services.
The good news is that depression is treatable through psychotherapy and most public hospitals in the country have psychiatric clinics dedicated to the treatment of mental illnesses. Also, thanks to advances in communication technology, it is now possible to access psychiatric services online, from the comfort of your own home. Previous studies have found online therapy to be an effective alternative to face-to-face therapy. If you feel that you have symptoms of depression, there is no need to continue suffering. Know that you are not alone and seek help from professionals who are trained to help you get back on your feet before depression steals precious years of your life.