In 62 per cent cases, parents understood the problems and worries of the adolescents while 47 per cent parents checked if the homework of the adolescents was done. (Reuters)One in four children in the age group of 13-15 years in India suffer from depression, which affects 86 million people in South-East Asia region, the WHO said today. Informing that India has the highest suicide rate among 10 South-East Asian countries, the WHO released “Mental Health Status of Adolescents in South-East Asia: Evidence for Action” report which said in 2012, the estimated suicide rate per 1 lakh people in India, in the age group of 15–29 years, was 35.5. The estimated suicide rates per 1 lakh people in this age group varied from 3.6 in Indonesia to 25.8 in Nepal, it said.
Noting that depression can lead to suicide, which is the second highest cause of death among people of age group 15-29 years in the region, WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Director, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said depression-related health services must be made more accessible and of higher quality.
The report, released on the eve of World Health Day which focuses on depression this year, said the total population of India was 1,311.1 million, of which, adolescent (13-15 years) population was 75.5 million, which is 5.8 per cent of total population. Of that, 39.8 million were boys and 35.7 million girls.
Seven per cent adolescents were found to be “bullied” and they felt disturbed due to comments of their peers, family members or teachers.
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25 per cent of adolescent were “depressed” and “sad or hopeless” while 11 per cent were “distracted” and had a hard time staying focused on their work most of times or always, the report said.
Eight per cent adolescents faced “anxiety” or could not sleep because of being worried while a similar percentage of adolescents felt lonely most of times or always, it said, adding 10.1 per cent of adolescents in India had no close friends.
The report said a “significant” number of students reported low levels of parental engagement, ranging from 15 per cent in Sri Lanka to almost one fifth students in India.
In 62 per cent cases, parents understood the problems and worries of the adolescents while 47 per cent parents checked if the homework of the adolescents was done.
Four per cent adolescents used tobacco products while eight per cent used alcohol, the report said.
“The reported prevalence of cigarette smoking, defined as smoking cigarettes on any of the days in the past 30 days, varied from 1.2 per cent in India (for 13–15 year olds only) to 5.9 per cent in Nepal to 20.1 per cent in Timor-Leste and 24.6 per cent in Bhutan,” it said.
Apart from smoking cigarettes, use of other tobacco products was also found to be high.
The WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Director complimented India for passing the Mental Healthcare Bill recently that decriminalizes suicide and seeks to provide healthcare and services for persons with mental health conditions.
“Mental health has been among the top 10 health priorities in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Maldives and Sri Lanka in recent years. Eight of the 11 member countries have mental health policies or plans,” Singh said.
“By talking about depression more openly and by better understanding of signs and symptoms of the condition, we are in a stronger position to help ourselves if we experience depression-like symptoms,” she said.
“We are also better placed to support colleagues, friends or loved ones who may have depression,” she said.
Though depression affects all demographic groups, it is more common among adolescents and youths, women of childbearing age (particularly following childbirth), and those above the age of 60.
Signs and symptoms of depression include disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, guilty feeling, low self-worth, feelings tired and lethargy. It may also manifest as agitation or physical restlessness, substance abuse, reduced concentration and suicidal thoughts or acts, Singh said.
“People experiencing depression often find a range of evidence-based coping mechanisms useful, from talking to someone they trust to exercising regularly or staying connected with their loved ones.
“Avoiding or restricting alcohol intake and refraining from using illicit drugs help keep depression at bay. But many people also find professional help an important part of managing the condition,” she said.
Emphasizing on how support for persons experiencing depression is vitally important, Singh said, “Health services across the region, related to depression, must be made more accessible and of higher quality. This is possible even in low and middle-income settings.”
“At present less than 1 per cent of health expenditure by governments in low and middle-income countries is allocated for mental health,” she said.
Healthcare workers at all levels can be better trained to detect the signs and symptoms of depression, community health facilities can be better integrated with national mental health networks, Singh said.
World Health Day is celebrated on April 7 every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization and each year a theme is selected that highlights a priority area of public health.