January 03, 2018

By The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. You can also get crisis text support via the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741.

Depression is a common illness, affecting more than 350 million people of all ages around the world. It’s currently the number one cause of disability, and is predicted to be the number one global burden of disease by 2030. It can cause individuals to struggle greatly, impacting their functioning at work, school and in relationships. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, which takes the lives of 800,000 people worldwide each year.

Despite these grim statistics, there is hope and depression can be prevented and treated. But in order to get people on the path to treatment, we first need to get people talking about depression.

Starting the Conversation

Talking about a past or present experience with depression can be overwhelming. The many reasons we may decide not to share our struggles are all too real—we don’t want to burden others, we’re worried we’ll get fired or we don’t want to be judged or treated differently. But talking about depression can be a key step in the recovery process. Most people feel better after talking to someone who cares about them. And it can also be the catalyst for a significant shift in how society views and addresses depression.

Opening up about depression was a key message of the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) 2017 World Health Day campaign on depression. The slogan “Let’s Talk,” reflected its goal of talking about depression to reduce stigma, encourage people to seek and receive help and provide information and tools for family, friends and colleagues.

It was World Health Day’s first mental health theme since 2001 and it raised awareness for millions of people through its far-reaching social media campaign, webpage and printed campaign materials. On World Mental Health Day, April 7, PAHO hosted a webinar at its headquarters in Washington D.C., which featured international experts on depression.

“Let’s Talk” led to the publication of hundreds of notes, articles, reports and interviews on depression in national and international newspapers and on radio and television programs. More than 300 campaign-related activities took place in the region giving people a comfortable space to talk about depression.

Think You Have Depression?

Despite the success of this year’s World Mental Health Day, much remains to be done before people can feel fully open about their depression. If you are experiencing symptoms, there are steps you can take to get better:

  • Seek professional help. If you don’t know where to start, ask your primary care physician.
  • If you feel suicidal, contact someone for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is free and available 24/7.
  • Try to keep up with activities you used to enjoy when you were well.
  • Stay connected. Keep in contact with family and friends.
  • Exercise regularly, even if it’s just a short walk.
  • Stick to regular eating and sleeping habits.
  • Accept that you might have depression and adjust your expectations. You may not be able to accomplish as much as you used to.
  • Avoid or restrict alcohol intake and refrain from using illicit drugs as they can worsen depression.
  • Check out these resources for more information about depression.

Depression is challenging, and unfortunately, there’s no changing that. But it can be made easier with treatment from a mental health professional and proper coping mechanisms. Many people who engage in treatment do get better. Together, we can share and spread this message to the millions of people affected by this condtion. Together, let’s talk about depression.


Dévora Kestel is the Unit Chief for Mental Health and Substance Use at PAHO/WHO. She has more than twenty five years of international experience implementing and advising governments on national policies related to mental health systems. She is a strong advocate for the rights of people with mental health issues.

Dr. Claudina E. Cayetano works as the Regional Advisor on Mental Health for PAHO/WHO. She is a medical doctor specialized in psychiatry, with over 30 years of experience in health services and program management. She is passionate about mental health reform and the integration of mental health into primary care.

Amy Tausch is a mental health consultant with the Mental Health and Substance Use Unit at PAHO/WHO in Washington DC. She joined PAHO in 2017. Ms. Tausch has an MPH in Global Health and an MA in International Development Studies from the George Washington University.

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