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12 Facts About Depression and South Asian Mental Health

South Asia is a broad region that includes close to 2 billion people. Encompassing India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives, South Asia is huge.

South Asia is a suicide-dense area but with only a handful of peer-reviewed studies assessing the relationship between depression and suicidal behavior.

South Asia represents approximately one-quarter (over 23%) of the global population. Depression affects close to 90 million people in South Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost one-third of people suffering from clinical depression worldwide live in South Asia, making the region home to a large majority of the world’s depressed.

Suicide is a global public health issue (World Health Organization, 2021). WHO estimated that suicide isthe fourth-leading cause of death worldwide among 15–30- year-olds. It is the result of a complex interaction between several risk factors which may include biological, personal, social, psychological, cultural, and environmental factors, but psychiatric disorders are one of the most crucial risk factors (WHO, 2014; Arafat and Kabir, 2017). Depression numbers are probably underreported in South Asian communities because of years of stigma about mental disorders.

About 90% of people who die by suicide experience some form of psychiatric illness. Among psychiatric disorders, clinical depression is the most common risk factor for suicides.

Mental illness is taboo in many South Asian communities. Discussing mental health in South Asia has yet to be socially normalized. South Asian religious and cultural influences often do not consider mental health a medical issue, referring to it as shameful and even a “superstitious belief.”

A 2010 study by the mental health campaign Time to Change (www. time-to-change-UK.org) found that South Asians rarely discuss mental health because of the risk the subject poses to their reputation, family, and status.

South Asian languages do not have a word for depression. There is dukkha (universal suffering); pagal (derogatory word, crazy); and shikasta (broken). Many South Asians are unable to express the specific condition of depression in their language. As a result, they often downplay it as part of “life’s ups and downs.” This language limitation and difficulty describing symptoms also makes diagnoses and treatment difficult.

Depression is a major contributor to other global health problems. Medical experts have found a correlation between the symptoms of depression and the perpetuation of chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease. Depression exacerbates other health conditions.

Postpartum depression in South Asian women is often undiagnosed and unrecognized. The gender of the baby, domestic violence, secrecy, and poverty are all factors that put new mothers at a higher risk for postpartum depression. The stigma surrounding mental health prevents new mothers from receiving mental health care or support during after pregnancy.

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia are three countries who have recently emphasized mental health as a “top priority” in public health. In 2021, WHO lauded their work and the important step it takes towards normalizing and treating depression and mental illness, as illness.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) have had a positive impact on mental health care. In countries where the government is not willing or able to make mental health a priority, NGOs are providing crucial support to people suffering from mental health issues. NGOs in South Asia have expanded their community-based programs and are providing specialized mental health services. For example, in the Maldives, a number of NGOs are offering rehabilitation, life-skills training, educationsl information, and resilience-building to citizens. These efforts have begun to increase the access South Asians have to mental health care with decreased stigma.

Mental disorders are bad for work and family life. People with major depression struggle to take care of their family, complete self-care tasks, pay bills, and be productive in the work place. Although poverty rates in South Asia are declining, the region accounted for nearly half of the world’s “multidimensionally poor” in 2017. Providing mental health care to South Asians may be a major step in helping to eradicate poverty within the region.

According to the World Bank, strong mental health is a contributing factor to not only the wealth of nations but to increased quality of living and productivity for families and individuals.

Read more about this:  South Asian Mental Health

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