Issue : February / March 2018


Awareness of and treatment for depression have greatly improved in Thailand; be sensitive to the warning signs  in yourself and others

Life does not always go as planned and there are a million things in life that are beyond our control, so it is perfectly normal for an emotionally healthy person to get the blues once in a while. But if you ever find that the blues grow darker and darker in shade no matter how hard you try to shake it off, don’t just sit and wonder if it will pass. Seek help from trusted friends and family members or doctors, because depression is a lurking threat that is closer that you think, and it is treatable.

Depression is a mood disorder that makes you experience sadness at a more intense level. If your common blues starts to become something that makes you lethargic and anxious all the time, makes you lose your appetite, self-esteem and confidence so that you avoid interacting with people around you, so that you stop taking care of yourself and spend most of your time in isolation, it’s very likely you are in depression. Millions of people around the world have depression, including the richest, the smartest and the famous people among us who may or may not realize that the persisting, intense blues they’re feeling are in fact depression. The good news is that depression can be cured with the right medication and therapy.

“First things first, people with depression are not crazy. They have no tendency to harm others, only themselves,” Dr Boonruang Triruangworawat, director general of the Department of Mental Health, told Elite+. “In many cases, depression is the result of having too much pent-up stress that has not been released properly. It can be genetic, too. Many patients feel that they are left out, unworthy and insignificant, and because these emotional symptoms are hard to detect, they are mostly left unattended until small stress snowballs into depression. Besides difficulties sleeping, eating and concentrating, it could escalate into self-harm and even suicide.

“Treatment is actually very simple: make them feel better. And that can be done with medication and psychotherapy either by medical personnel, family members or loved ones. They need someone to listen to them, empathize and offer emotional support. Families and friends are crucial in treatment. Also, we found that exercise helps ease the intensity of depression and prevents the risk of depression by 30%.

“I suggest that you take notice of the behaviour of people around you. If something is out of the ordinary for an extended period of time, talk to them and listen to what they have to say. Give them the support they need and keep them company. It could be gone just like that if the problem is not that big. But if talking is not helping, or they are withdrawn into themselves, seek our help to prevent further trauma and physical danger that could come later.”

Unlike patients with psychosis, depressives do not need to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. And according to Dr Boonruang, any hospital in Thailand can offer treatment for depression.

“Normally, doctors will prescribe medication that lifts their mood and increases their appetite. The rest is counselling and behavioural adjustment. We might suggest exercise, music, meditation and other recreational activities within the patients’ interests and capability to distract them from the sadness. Some may volunteer to help other patients to increase the sense of self-worth. There are many things we can do to help them, and that needs cooperation from both the patients and their families.”

Thailand, led by the Department of Mental Health, has been at the forefront of fighting depression for at least 10 years. A decade ago, accessibility to treatment for depression was only 3%, compared to 50% now. The department has established 20 psychiatric hospitals in every region of Thailand and trained volunteers at community health centres to detect early signs of depression. The government also passed the Mental Health Act, BE 2551, that protects the mentally ill. The Act also requires members of the public to report cases of metal illness to the authorities for proper treatment. According to Dr Boonruang, Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has such an act; some other countries see that as a violation of personal rights.

“Treatment for depression is not pricey, as the medicine used is listed in common drugs that are available at all hospitals,” Dr Boonruang said. “Apart from the 20 psychiatric hospitals, there are psychiatric wards at all general hospitals in Thailand that can take care of you, plus 800 psychiatrists nationwide, which is considered sufficient for Thailand. In recent years, we have had more than 2 million people come in for counselling, which I take as a good sign. Emotional disorders are seen less as something superstitious or the result of karma, but as an illness that can be cured and patients can live their daily lives among other people.

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