Lending a hand on World Suicide Prevention Day

Today, September 10th, marks the 11th World Suicide Prevention day. It’s a key initiative, because many cases suicide can be prevented with increased awareness and intervention. Depression and suicide affect a broad section of the population which is also why we’re particularly pleased to welcome Ilena Day from Action on Depression to talk to the rest of the HealthUnlocked community.

– Matt Jameson Evans, Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer, HealthUnlocked

Can you introduce yourself to the HealthUnlocked community?

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My name is Ilena Day, I am the Chief Executive of Action on Depression, Scotland’s sole national charity working to provide information and support services for people living with depression. I have been privileged enough to work for the charity and its team of dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters for 10 years.

What has Action for Depression got planned for World Suicide Prevention Day this year?

We will be talking about our new campaign “Never Judge A Book…” which highlights case studies of people who you would not necessarily ever imagine would be experiencing depression. We will be doing this by talking about it on social media and by picking up media opportunities where we can to raise awareness of depression in Scotland and of support options available.

Is there a clear line between deep sadness and depression? Can you briefly explain depression as a condition (e.g. cause, some facts/numbers for UK, treatments available, prognosis)?

Depression is not the same as mere feelings of sadness, it is important the distinction is made between feeling down around problems that we can all face from time to time and clinical depression. We must be careful not to medicalise social problems, for example it is normal to feel sad when something sad happens in your life or when things are not going so well and these feelings usually pass in time.  Depression, however is a recognised mood disorder, a clinical illness and its causes can be multifaceted. When you are clinically depressed the feelings of sadness and hopelessness are persistent and are accompanied by a range of other debilitating symptoms. Depression is best treated by a range of psychological (counseling, cognitive behavioural therapy, other self-help support programmes and social interventions (peer support, social support, lifestyle changes etc) and can also be helped by following a programme of anti-depressant medication. More details can be found on our website.

Depression will affect 1 in 5 people at some point in their lives.

Do you think the stigmatisation of mental health and depression is still a major problem or is society making better progress as information becomes more widely available.

Progress has been made over the last 10 years with the investment in anti-stigma campaigns, suicide prevention strategies such as “Choose Life” in Scotland and media guidelines having led to more responsible coverage of mental ill-health and suicide.

That said, depression still remains the “poor man” of health conditions and when you look at the incidence of depression and suicide rate in Scotland and across the UK, it is clearly not given the appropriate financial investment or recognition it deserves. Action on Depression work tirelessly to survive financially year in year out so that we can continue to provide impartial and confidential information and support services such as support groups, face to face courses, on-line support and information resources to people in Scotland living with the condition. We rely heavily on individual donations and the public undertaking sponsored events for us alongside trust and other charitable funding to top up the statutory funding we receive. Were there more investment in the mental health arena which appropriately recognised the true scale of the problem then our efforts could be better spent on providing a greater range of direct support services.

Most people know someone close to them who have had depression (or have experienced it themselves). What advice would you give to someone who was worried about the mental health of someone close to them?

The best advice is to actually talk to the person about it. This sounds easy and it is not easy, but it actually does help to talk and to really listen to someone who may be struggling with their mental health. It is useful to have information about organisations like Action on Depression who can be contacted in confidence for help. It might be helpful to know that depression is an extremely common condition and a treatable one, people can and do recover, although it may not feel like this at the time. Depression, by its very nature is an isolating condition as it makes people more inclined to withdraw from friends and family which can be unhelpful and tends to lead to a viscous cycle of feeling more unwell.  If you are worried that a loved one or friend may be actively suicidal it does not make the situation worse if you actually ask them how bad they are feeling and to ask the question if they are having suicidal thoughts. If they are it is important that they are encouraged to seek help and support immediately either through their own GP, or in a crisis out of hours situation they could call NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24, present at Accident and Emergency, or call an ambulance or contact one of the 24 hour helplines for information and support. In Scotland there is a crisis telephone helpline called Breathing Space Scotland 0800 83 85 87 who will provide support and a listening ear. Across the Uk, the Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) 08457 90 90 90 also provide a 24 hour helpline and in England MIND run an information line for people experiencing mental health problems 0300 123 3393.

If there was a World Suicide Prevention Day message to General Practitioners and other Healthcare Professionals around clinical depression, what would it be?

For starters the message should be extended out with those mentioned above to include schools, further education, employers across all sectors, the department of work and pensions (particularly in light of Welfare Reform) and those working in social care professions such as general nursing, midwifery, housing, social work etc. The message is that depression doesn’t just happen to someone else, depression is everyone’s problem. Agencies must join together and set down their professional boundaries to truly work in collaboration to ensure that people in need of support can access it locally and timely in a way that suits their needs and not in a way that suits the needs of those delivering the services i.e. many of our support services are offered in the evenings out with the constraints of 9-5pm. In Scotland we lose two people every day by suicide. I repeat two people every day. These figures are higher than losses through road traffic accidents and statistics around those dying due to domestic abuse. The link between depression and suicide is clear. The real tragedy is with the right help and support people with depression can recover and move on with their lives.

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How important is peer-support in the treatment of depression? How have you found having a HealthUnlocked community? Do you think patients benefit from being part of your online community?

Being invited to set up an HealthUnlocked community was a perfect opportunity to engage and support more people without needing huge input from ourselves.  Being a small charity e-health is a great way for us to reach a wider network in a cost efficient way. Setting up the community in a guided manner was ideal. In addition it has been great for raising awareness of what we do, how we help etc.  It’s helped us as a small charity with limited resources to build up a very busy, supportive and well moderated community on the HealthUnlocked platform. The community has been easy to manage with the help of the features and moderation tools that you provide.

Peer support has many benefits for people experiencing depression. People can share positive coping strategies and feel less isolated by knowing that they are not alone in their experiences. People who use our HealthUnlocked community come from far and wide, not always from within Scotland which is what our other services cover. In many respects when it comes to an online, supportive, peer-led community though, what matters most is the ability to share, support others, identify with those in similar situations, learn new management techniques, find out what other service people find helpful and be available 24/7. So, in this sense, it’s definitely been beneficial and very worthwhile.

– Illena Day, Chief Executive of Action on Depression


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