OFFICIAL ADDRESS IN OBSERVANCE OF WORLD HEALTH DAY 2017

Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts & Nevis:

As a member state of the 193 countries that comprise the United Nations (UN) St. Kitts and Nevis joins the rest of the globe today, April 7, 2017 in celebrating World Health Day. This year World Health Day is being celebrated under the theme “Depression: Let’s Talk”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is leading the charge of this year-long campaign to raise awareness, advocate for intervention, and provide avenues for a return to holistic wellness among persons suffering from depression. This is a lofty, yet necessary ambition of the WHO, given that depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

The WHO estimates that in excess of 300 million persons are currently living with depression – a figure that represents more than an 18% increase over the 10-year period between 2005 and 2015. The data also reflects that more than 80% of the disease burden associated with depression is among persons living in low and middle-income countries.

If St. Kitts and Nevis is going to have a meaningful national conversation and action plan to address depression, it is important that we understand the illness. We need to understand its impact, its victims, and some key approaches to address the condition – so that persons affected by the disease can go on to live healthy, well-adjusted and productive lives.

Simply put, depression is a form of mental illness. Depression is characterized by sadness that won’t go away, and the loss of interest in activities that an individual would normally enjoy. Depending on the extent of the depression, an individual might also be unable to carry out daily activities – sometimes for up to two weeks at a time. Apart from these tell-tale signs, people who are depressed often demonstrate the following:
 Change in appetite
 Loss of energy
 Lack of sleep or sleeping for longer periods
 Anxiety
 Inability to concentrate
 Indecision
 Irritability and restlessness
 Poor self-image and self-worth
 Feelings of guilt
 Poor hygiene habits: such as being unwilling to take a bath/shower, brush one’s teeth, etc.
 Thoughts about harming themselves or suicide
Given these depression-induced characteristics it should surprise no one that depression can have a devastating impact on family life, interpersonal relationships, and the ability to get a job or keep a job.

It is important to note that Depression can happen to anyone: it respects no one; neither is it dependent on socio-economic status, race, creed or gender. Depression is certainly not a sign of weakness. It should also be emphasized that depression is a treatable condition, for which a combination of therapies can be applied – including medication.

It is important to note that far more people suffer from depression than might be assumed. However, there are certain groups of persons who are more likely to suffer from depression. These include:
1) Older Persons (often due to loneliness and loss of independence)
2) Mothers who have recently given birth (called post-partum depression)
3) Teens and Young Adults
4) Unemployed Persons
5) Refugees and Migrants (such as Syrians fleeing to other countries due to the prolonged civil war at home)
6) Menopausal Women
7) Women who have recently had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or a mastectomy (removal of the breast) and could feel as if they have lost the very essence of their femininity (that which makes them a woman) and their sex appeal, etc.
8) Persons grieving the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship through break-up or divorce, etc.

Throughout its year-long campaign dubbed “Depression: Let’s Talk”, the WHO will pay particular attention to older persons and mothers with young babies – two groups among whom depression is most common. The goals of this campaign include (a) getting rid of the stigma associated with depression and mental illness; (b) advocating that more people everywhere who suffer from depression seek help and get help; and (c) helping persons suffering from depression to re-integrate themselves into societal and family life in order to live healthy, well-adjusted lives.

The journey of recovery from depression includes a number of positive measures. Persons who think they are depressed are encouraged to do the following:
 Confide in someone you trust about what you are feeling. Talking about your feelings with someone who cares about you might make you feel better.
 Get professional help: good starting points are your doctor or a local health-care provider in any of our Nation’s 17 health centres.
 Keep up with the activities you once enjoyed and stay connected to your family and friends.
 Accept the fact that you may have a problem with depression.
 Seek spiritual counselling, from your pastor, church group, etc.
 Contact a counsellor: help is available from trained representatives at the Counselling Unit within the Ministry of Social Services.
 Maintain regular eating and sleeping habits.
 Make it a point to practice good hygiene.
 Exercise regularly.
 Avoid or restrict alcohol intake.
 Avoid illicit drugs: they can worsen depression.
 Seek help immediately if you feel suicidal.
 Always keep in mind that depression is a treatable condition and that there is no shame in asking for help so you can get better.

This year’s celebration of World Health Day 2017 under the theme “Depression: Let’s Talk” is considered rather timely by the Ministry of Health. Since taking office two years ago the Team Unity Administration has held particular focus and investment on the issue and treatment of mental illness, for which depression is one such type. Government recognises that mental illness can happen to anyone, at any time. As a result of this, significant investment has been made in the treatment of mental illness beyond the traditional scope of medication, counselling, and containment of persons suffering from acute forms of the disease at the Psychiatric Units within Alexandra Hospital on Nevis and Joseph N France General Hospital on St. Kitts. The recent completion of the Mental Health Day Treatment Centre on St. Kitts is Phase One of a two-tiered approach to the treatment of mental illness among persons who can be rehabilitated via the employment of additional interventions such as occupational therapy; arts and crafts’ manufacturing; farming and other skills’ development; and anger management. Phase Two of this national approach will be the introduction of a Half-Way House where persons recovering from mental illness can live semi-independent lives in shared spaces that allow them to earn a living, and have decent jobs and housing in preparation for their re-integration into society. On this score, the Government wishes to document its gratitude for the ongoing support it receives from key stakeholder groups such as the Mental Health Association. The respective individual and partnership approaches of these mental health stakeholder groups in the Federation are greatly appreciated.

As we observe World Health Day 2017: May God bless the people of St. Kitts and Nevis as we commit ourselves to promoting healthy and positive lifestyles for the benefit of present and future generations. Let us remember that an essential part of wellness is good mental health. Let us also be reminded that depression is a form of mental illness that must be addressed head-on, and for which treatment is available and recovery is possible. Let us also join the WHO by starting and maintaining a national conversation on depression and, in so doing, enable more of our people to live productive lives – free of the stigma and lifestyle setbacks that are often associated with depression and other forms of mental illness.

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