Being the single largest cause of morbidity globally, depression is a public health priority that concerns all, said Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO representative to India.

Speaking on World Health Day on the subject ‘Depression: Let’s talk’, Dr Bekedam said “All of us are stakeholders. The first step towards treatment and recovery is often talking to a person you trust.”

He further said: “While the government legislates, creates an enabling environment, and makes professional services available, the onus is on each one of us to reach out, be it a friend, a colleague, a neighbour or family and make a difference, even save a life. It is equally important that the patient seeks help when depressed.”

Today’s talk, organised by the WHO Country Office for India in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences and the state Department of Health & Family Welfare in Bengaluru, called for increasing awareness and greater attention to mental health issues, especially depression.

Dr Bekedam also highlighted three recent developments that bode well for India in the area of mental health: The National Health Policy 2017 prioritises mental health services as a component of addressing noncommunicable diseases; Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat address spoke at length on how to prevent and manage depression; and the path-breaking Mental Health Care Bill 2017, which decriminalises attempt to suicide and has a rights-based approach.

In his address, Dr Rathan U Kelkar, Mission Director, National Health Mission, Karnataka, spoke about the integration of the mental health programme with primary health care in the state. “We have trained our medical and para-medical staff for the support and treatment of depression and made the required medication available at all levels from PHCs to district hospitals,” he added.

“Let this awareness celebration not be limited to today but the entire year. We should strive for early recognition of depression, provide treatment and help in preventing suicides,” Dr Kelkar urged.

Dr Shalini Rajneesh, Principal Secretary, Health, Karnataka, also attended the event. At the core of the World Health Day campaign is the importance of talking, breaking the stigma around depression, as a vital component of recovery. The stigma surrounding mental illness, including depression, remains a barrier to people seeking help throughout the world.

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