With depression affecting over 300 million people worldwide, it comes as no surprise that the World Health Organization has chosen it as their topic for World Health Day in 2017. The WHO states that depression is the biggest cause of disability globally, yet still highly stigmatised and misunderstood despite affecting 1 in 4 of us during our lifetimes. This year’s campaign aims to encourage “[more] people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help” (WHO, 2017).
Despite an increasing focus on reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues—calls to include mental health education in school and workplaces, and a spike in recognisable figures like Theresa May and Rio Ferdinand discussing mental health—depression still remains taboo to varying degrees around the world.
For some, sadly depression is still seen as a character weakness or a sign of ineffectively dealing with the stresses of modern life. However, WHO’s 2017 campaign aims to get people talking about depression to promote the message that depression affects more of us than we think. “The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign Depression: let’s talk,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health at WHO. “For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.” (WHO, 2017)
Personal mental health as a healthcare student
As a healthcare student, you may be familiar with seeing mental health symptoms presented in a healthcare environment, whilst on your hospital placement or when studying. However, as a particularly emotive medical issue, if you are affected by mental health problems yourself it can sometimes be hard to dissociate yourself from personal mental health problems and those of your patients.
The General Medical Council and the Medical Schools Council offer a thorough guide to both medical schools and students, on how to live and study healthcare as normal if you are living with a mental health condition. Some of the guidance offered to medical schools to support students includes reminding students that mental health conditions are normal, expected and manageable, as well as offering and promoting well-being, and helping students manage stress.
The GMC also encourages medical schools to be open and transparent about student’s medical health conditions, support them and encourage discussion around living and working with medical health conditions. Particularly useful for healthcare students who worry about how their school reacts to mental health conditions, the General Medical Council offers a FAQ guide to answer some common questions students ask about their worries- such as about whether they will be treated differently by staff or whether they will be put through to a fitness to practise committee (the answer to both is: unlikely). If you are unsure about your medical school or university's stance on mental health, you should contact your course leader or student’s union.
Where to find mental health resources
Just like any other profession, mental health is of incredible importance in healthcare and, as a student, you may be particularly affected by the changes and challenges during your transition to university life. Thankfully, there are a wealth of online resources available to students everywhere who require information or support. Your university or student’s union has a responsibility to provide you with wellbeing services, such as counselling, support groups or direction of where to go when you need help.