Depressed & in denial - Up to 50% of Jamaicans living with depression failing to seek medical help
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressing fresh concern about the number of persons living with depression in the Americas, Dr Maureen Irons-Morgan, who heads Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse in the health ministry, is worried that scores of Jamaicans are failing to seek treatment for this illness.
Jamaica's last official check of the number of persons with depression was released some nine years ago, and Irons-Morgan suspects the figure has grown since then
"Our best estimate of prevalence of depression symptoms among the population can be obtained from the Health and Life Style Survey, Jamaica 2008," Irons-Morgan told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
"The results indicated that about 20 per cent of persons interviewed, aged between 15 and 74 years, were assessed as depressed," added Irons-Morgan.
Afraid because of stigma
She argued that the number could now be higher than the 20 per cent in the 2008 report, as the stigma and discrimination results in fear and reluctance of persons to report their symptoms, and to access appropriate treatment.
According to Irons-Morgan, "within our mental health services we mostly have persons with more severe psychosis that tend to seek treatment. So it's not a good representation of all the people who suffer from depression in the population at large."
It is estimated that as many as 50 per cent of the persons with depression may go undiagnosed and untreated due to their reluctance to seek help. This is very unfortunate, because depression is a very treatable condition.
"Treatment in the form of medication, counselling and psychotherapy can have a very positive impact on a person's quality of life and productivity," said Irons-Morgan.
She argued that most persons with symptoms of depression will not seek help in the mental health services first and are more likely to go to the general health clinic or their general practitioners, as their depressive symptoms may also be related to physical conditions.
The Ministry of Health, with support from the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation (WHO), has embarked on a Mental Health Gap Action Plan to provide help for persons living with depression.
This involves the training of general health practitioners and nurse practitioners to ensure that the condition can be treated in all of the island's 300 health centres.
According to Irons-Morgan, persons requiring care can attend their nearest health centre, as specialist mental health services are also available in 139 such centres.
She said various initiatives are also being taken by the governmental and non-governmental organisations to improve access to counselling support for persons who are depressed.
Treatment usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two.
In a report released to mark World Health Day which was celebrated on April 7, the WHO gave new estimates on the number of persons believed to be living with depression as part of its yearlong campaign to highlight the issue.
The report concluded that five per cent or nearly 50 million persons in the Americas are living with depression. That represents a 17 per cent increase in the numbers of since 2005.
The WHO said depression, which is a common mental illness characterised by persistent sadness, a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, as well as an inability to carry out daily activities for 14 days or longer, is now the leading cause of ill health among citizens of the Americas.
It added that depression is the leading cause of disability and ill health worldwide.
According to the report, "a general lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives."