Malta needs a national suicide line run by professionals at a crisis centre, as well as a strategy to address self-harm, according to psychiatrist Mark Xuereb.
“Our crisis teams see about 10 to 15 cases of people suffering from depression every week. Out of these, 60 per cent have thoughts of self-harm, so a national crisis line run by trained professionals and the setting up of crisis phone booths at suicide hotspots around Malta and Gozo is a must,” he said.
This month alone, two suicides have already occurred, he added.
His comments were sought on the occasion of World Health Day, celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organisation.
The theme chosen by WHO for this year is depression, the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide.
According to the latest estimates from the WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015.
People with mental illness find it harder to keep a commitment or a job and are themselves at risk of suicide, especially if a loved one has already died by suicide.
These issues do not necessarily present in childhood.
“These people were ordinary people like you and me who left families; the pain they leave is carried across generations to come,” says Dr Xuereb.
According to WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression
Dr Xuereb stressed that people should not frown upon and judge people who may not be collaborating at home or who work too quickly.
“These people may already be struggling with their inner crisis and be depressed. The last thing these people want is to be marginalised or criticised further.
“A friendly smile and empathic chat will help the depressed person seek help in a world where mental illness is still heavily stigmatised,” he said.
Being depressed did not mean being weak, he emphasised.
“On the contrary, research shows these people suffer in silence as they use their inbuilt coping skills to address their low mood, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, memory lapses and a myriad of other symptoms which severely affect one’s daily routines,” Dr Xuereb said.
Even drawing up a simple shopping list can become an ordeal when someone is depressed, he explained, as indecisiveness, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness set in.
Dr Xuereb warned that the latter feelings may instil thoughts of suicide. He said it was very important to adopt WHO’s recommendation to talk about depression.
“It’s OK to talk although it may not be easy to break the ice. Sharing a problem and reaching out to professionals is the first sure step to overcome the crisis and get better,” he said.
Unfortunately, WHO says that depression has risen by 18 per cent globally between 2005 and 2015, and the illness is predicted to be the leading cause of disease burden by 2030.
According to WHO, a lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, hinders many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives. As for ‘Depression: let’s talk’, the overall goal of the campaign is that more people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help.
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan says: “These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to re-think their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.”