Depression is a pervasive health issue today, currently affecting one in five South Africans with more than one million Mzansians on some form of antidepressant medication. What’s even more worrying is that this figure only takes the private sector into account as statistics for the public sector are scant, which means the true figure could be more than double that.
South Africa however isn’t alone.
According to a study published in The Lancet, mental disorders and substance abuse combined are the leading cause of non-fatal illness worldwide, contributing nearly 23 percent of the total global disease burden.
Mariska van Aswegen, spokesman for Pharma Dynamics said modern-day society is in the throes of a virtual epidemic of depression.
“The numbers are frightening. More than 30 percent of South Africans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime, one in four people in the workplace have been diagnosed with depression and 31.5 percent of teenagers have attempted suicide. Mzansians also consume 56 percent more antidepressants than they did a mere five years ago,” she pointed out.
Many organisations will have launched campaigns this year in the wake of National Mental Illness Awareness Month in an effort to raise awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health, but the question still remains – what is the root cause and how are we manufacturing a depressed society?
Van Aswegen cites junk food, consumerism, chronic disease, psychological attachments, sedentary living and ignorance as the main culprits behind the rise in depression.
“Most of us experience occasional bouts of depression in our lives, usually brought on by a specific situation or major life event. These could include divorce, sudden unemployment or death of a loved one, but decades of research on mental health conditions have revealed correlations between certain lifestyle factors and increased depression rates,” she explained.
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Van Aswegen added, “Eating too much junk food, for instance, has been scientifically linked to depression. People who regularly eat dessert, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products are 58 percent more likely to be clinically depressed. Those that eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods – fruit, veggies and lean protein are 26 percent less likely to be depressed. Currently, the percentage of South Africans eating junk food at least once a month is in the region of 78 percent (26.5 million), which is set to increase to 34.1 million by next year. South Africans drastically need to take a closer look at what they’re eating.”
Secondly, psychological attachments are equally closely linked to depression, but are probably the most overlooked mental health phenomenon of our day. This is when feeling miserable is more familiar than feeling good.
“This kind of ‘coping mechanism’ is particularly prevalent in people who come from broken homes. It becomes their ‘safe place’ in a sense. As a result, this encourages them to make choices that keep them in the realm of familiar misery. By doing so they unknowingly sabotage themselves, which can be a vicious circle and difficult to combat on their own. Broken homes are also more prevalent today than ever before,” she added.
Ignoring negative emotions could also lead to depression. “Feelings like sadness, hurt and grief are meant to be expressed. The natural flow of emotions cleanses the feelings from your body and ultimately aids in the recovery process.
“Many people might recognise symptoms of depression in themselves and even list ways of dealing with it, but few follow through. Don’t become comfortable inside depression. Know that severe cases of depression are dangerous and even life threatening. It’s not something that is necessarily easy to overcome, but there is much you can do.To those living with someone suffering from depression, always provide them with loving support. It’s the most powerful agent in the treatment of depression,” she advised.