South African depression and anxiety support group
launches Depression and Suicide Prevention Program
The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group will launch a new Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Program in February. The Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Network (GAMIAN) developed the program for use by support groups and healthcare professionals throughout the world.
This global initiative aims to provide organisations with a comprehensive education and support program in order to increase awareness of the severity of depression. The program is designed to combat the immense impact depression and it’s most destructive consequence, suicide, is having on society. Depressive disorders constitute approximately eight percent of the global economic health burden, with current projections indicating that the total global societal cost of depression will be second only to heart disease by the year 2020.
At present, one in eight adults experiences an episode of depression some time during their life - depression has to a large extent become the greatest predictor of suicide. Depression is the dominant contributory factor in suicide, with studies indicating that between 90 and 97% of suicide victims suffering from a mental illness at the time of their death. Depression has been identified present in 60% of people who have committed suicide. Instances of suicide and attempted suicide are on the increase throughout the world. The statistical evidence of the need for action is irrefutable: almost six percent of young people in France have attempted suicide one or more times, while 30% have considered suicide. Teenage suicides have doubled in frequency in the United Kingdom over the last decade, reflecting an alarming increase in suicide among young people throughout the world. The rise has been most dramatic amongst men aged 15 to 24, with an increase of 66% since 1974. Statistics indicate that although women attempt suicide more often than men do, men are successful in four times as many cases. One of the leading causes of suicide is isolation - the social trends towards marriage later in life and increasing divorce rates have extended the average time people spend on their own. Estimates for South Africa predict that between 6 and 19 out of every 100,000 South Africans are successful in suicide attempts. Unsuccessful attempts outnumber successful attempts by a ration of 8 to 1 in South Africa.
Awareness of depression as a serious clinical illness remains low throughout the world, with a significant need existing for further awareness amongst both healthcare providers and the general public. An international survey recently revealed that over one third of respondents reported never having received what they considered to be a correct diagnosis. In spite of problems obtaining appropriate diagnoses and treatment, over 80% of depressed patients respond well to effective antidepressant medication supported by psychological and social treatment.
Funded by a grant from Eli Lilly and Company, the Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Program provides support groups and healthcare professionals with comprehensive materials and guidance to launch an awareness campaign in their district or country. Intended for use by anyone involved or working in the mental health care profession, the program can be used to not only create awareness, but also to conduct screening programs and influence regulatory and public policy to provide access to appropriate treatment. The Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Program kit contains all that is needed to initiate and maintain an effective education campaign: presentation slides with the latest information on depression and suicide; guidelines on arranging, publicising and executing awareness presentations for consumers and professionals; suggestions on how to enlist the media into the campaign as well as ideas for petitioning regulatory and policy officials in mental health issues of specific importance to each organisation.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group will be implementing the program in both rural and urban areas. The need to reach those members of the public who reside in isolated areas, away from major centres of information and resources, is of particular importance in South Africa. Reaching these areas with a program of this sort will undoubtedly go a long way in the prevention of both depression and suicide. The Support Group will be targeting both Doctors and a number of related healthcare professionals, such as Psychiatric Nurses and Social Workers. A further area of contact will be with teachers and the police. These professions have been targeted because of their likelihood in assisting and identifying potential suicide victims.
According to Dr Danie Du Plessis, Central Nervous System Director at Eli Lilly, South Africa, “Eli Lilly is delighted to be able to support the Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Program and to continue its commitment to patients, families, support groups and healthcare providers in assisting to bring about a reduction in the number of needless and tragic deaths resulting from suicide”. Dr Franco Colin, a prominent Pretoria Psychiatrist, believes that awareness and education are imperative to reduce or control the increasing rate of suicide in South Africa. “Early recognition of mental disorders in general is vital to detecting signs of suicidal behaviour”, says Franco. He adds “educating both professionals and the public to behaviour indicative of suicide is necessary to alleviate the problem and reach out to those who are suffering”.
GAMIAN was established in 1997 to bring together depression and mental illness patient advocacy groups (such as the Depression and Anxiety Support Group), healthcare professionals and representatives of national government agencies and patients throughout the world. The organisation is dedicated to the empowerment of mental health users to seek appropriate treatment for their conditions, without fear of social stigma or prejudice. The Depression Awareness and Suicide Prevention Program is the latest in a number of global initiatives created to educate and support depressed and mentally ill patients, their family and health-care professionals. The implementation of this program in South Africa is a further indication of the Depression and Anxiety Support Group’s ongoing commitment to mental health care issues that affect the lives of ALL South Africans.