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Depression more debilitating than physical disability: AIIMS study

Recovering from financial loss or a beloved’s death can cripple a person more severely than a physical disability like amputation or paralysis,says a study conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Written by Vidya Krishnan | New Delhi | Published: February 16, 2009 12:39 am

Recovering from financial loss or a beloved’s death can cripple a person more severely than a physical disability like amputation or paralysis,says a study conducted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

The WHO-funded study looked at the ‘disabling effects of depression’ on 200 patients who were attending the Out Patient Department (OPD) at the Department of Psychiatry at AIIMS. For over two years,the patients were monitored and assessed thrice before coming to the conclusion that depression can affect the productivity of a person much more severely than physical disability.

“Depression is highly common and according to WHO by 2020,it would be the second-most prevalent condition worldwide. Depression affects more people than HIV or road accidents. The disease usually brings with it a high level of disability,” said Dr Rajesh Sagar,Assistant Professor,Department of Psychiatry,AIIMS who conducted the study.

The chief objective was look at the ‘disabling’ factors that come with various mental illnesses. Besides depression,patients with five other mental illnesses like schizophrenia,bipolar disorder,anxiety disorder,dementia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),were part of the study.

Among all six illnesses,the disability levels of patients suffering from depression and schizophrenia were found to be the highest.

Among patients who were monitored during trial,43 were suffering from depression. The promising find was that almost all patients improved after one year of treatment.

“When the bouts of depression were severe,the disability too,was severe. But as they continued with treatment,their depression scores reduced. Small things like refusing to socialise,not going to work,no concentration or inefficiency are all factors that count as disability and put the patient out of action,” added Dr Sagar.

According to experts,the study is significant as it establishes the severity of mental illnesses in comparison to physical illnesses. “People usually do not consider mental illnesses,especially depression,as a handicap. While someone without vision or with a physical handicap can be happy and efficient,depressed people cannot perform their duties and hence their condition is worse than a physical disability,” added Dr Sagar.

Symptoms of depression

* Feeling of anxiety,hopelessness

* Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable

* Change in sleep patterns

* Decreased energy level or becoming tired after normal activities

* Difficulties with memory,concentration,decision-making,or mental slowing

* Decreased interest in interaction with others

WHO facts

* Depression is common,affecting about 121 million people worldwide. By 2020 it would be the second-most prevalent condition,worldwide

* Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide

* Depression can be reliably diagnosed and treated in primary care centres

* Fewer than 25 per cent of those affected by depression have access to treatment

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