This year the topic for the World Health Day is depression. World Health Day is arranged by the World Health Organization (WHO) every year and this year the goal is to increase and to lower the threshold for people to talk about it. Depression is characterized by both physical symptoms like pain and fatigue, and psychological symptoms like persistent sad mood and loss of interest in doing tasks one normally enjoys, which leads to decreased ability to perform everyday tasks. Other depressive symptoms are loss of energy, change in appetite and sleep patterns, anxiety, reduced concentration, feelings of being worthless and suicidal thoughts. Depression affects men and women of all ages and nationalities. Adolescents and young adults, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth) and adults over 60 years of age are of particular interest in this year’s WHO campaign. Depression is one of the most common mental health diseases in Norway, and it is estimated that 20% of the Norwegian population will experience a depressive episode during life.
Although there is increasing emphasis on mental health today, less than half of those suffering from depression seek treatment. Lack of resources and/or medical personnel, and stigma associated with mental disorders are the most common reasons why depressed individuals do not seek help. There are several methods of prevention and treatment for depression. The most common treatments in Norway today are psychological counselling and antidepressants. The latter treatment is often associated with unfortunate side effects and efforts to find more suitable non-drug methods of treatment and prevention have intensified. Accumulating evidence indicates that regular physical activity can contribute to improve one’s self-esteem and increase positive social interaction, which in turn can prevent future depressive episodes and treat current depression. Last year, two interesting articles were published underlining the importance of exercise and fitness as essential and effective strategies for preventing and treating depression. They found a meaningful link between depression, exercise, and fitness. It has also been shown that those who are physically active are at lower risk of developing depression after having experienced a heart attack, when compared to the physically inactive who have experienced the same.
There is a reason why the WHO has named this year’s World Health Day “Depression – Let’s talk” day. It is crucial that mental illness be taken seriously, and to make room for openly talking about depression, on a par with physical illness. This will contribute to more people getting treatment and being able to function normally in their everyday lives.
Ekaterina Zotcheva and Trude Carlsen