Senior Associate Director, Global Health Program, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago
World Health Day on April 7 focuses on depression. Alyson Lofthouse makes the case for bringing depression to the forefront in addressing overall health and among refugees and immigrants.
Depression can look different depending on the culture and environment of the person who is experiencing it, especially when that person, such as an immigrant or refugee, is from a culture that is different from the majority culture where they live. When these factors are confounded with traumatic experiences, lack of awareness about depression, treatment options generally, and treatment options that do not address the specific cause or manifestation, the result can be a perfect storm that leads to poor outcomes and worst case scenarios.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, 65 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their home. That is why it is fitting that the theme for WHO World Health Day—celebrated on April 7—is “Depression: Let’s Talk.”
A global public health initiative
Each year, WHO promotes a particular health-related theme. For the second time in the past twenty years, the theme is related to mental health. Elevating depression as a global public health issue is appropriate both because of its prevalence and because, when associated with other physical conditions, overall health and wellness outcomes improve through its treatment.
Many governmental and other public health organizations host events to observe World Health Day. This year, the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago is observing the World Health Day 2017 “Depression: Let’s Talk” by focusing on the current refugee crisis in the world and refugees’ access to mental health care. Given this year’s theme for World Health Day and the current international climate, it was logical to pursue the topic of mental health among refugee and displaced populations. This choice was not meant to diminish the importance of mental health among non-displaced populations, it was solely to produce a forum that is congruent with current events.
The UIC School of Public Health’s statement of values emphasizes that its community is dedicated to caring, knowledge, justice, diversity, and respect, among other important values. This year’s theme for World Health Day aligns with our values in that it encourages dialogue on a topic that is often left out of the discussion, promotes compassion for others, and seeks to expand the knowledge base on addressing mental health for the improvement of overall health and well-being.
The UIC School of Public Health has invited the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) to participate, and DBSA is proud to present an “I’m here…” program. The purpose of the “I’m here…” campaign is to raise awareness, individually and collectively, about mental health and address some of the common barriers to pursuing treatment options and personal wellness.
Whether one lives with a mental health condition or wants to show their support for a friend or family member who lives with one, opening up a channel of communication can seem difficult or even overwhelming. This can be especially true among immigrant and refugee populations. According to WHO, the prevalence of depression among refugees 5 or more years after resettlement is higher than that of host populations and is mainly due to adverse socioeconomic conditions after migration.
The “I’m here…” program is designed to address the challenge of having such conversations. The “I’m here…” presentation demonstrates how to have a conversation with a family member or another peer while creating a pin, an activity which functions as an avenue to start the conversation.
The symbolism of the “I’m here…” safety pin represents the idea of creating safety in numbers. The pin holds green beads because green is the color for mental health awareness.
DBSA is hoping is to reach a critical mass of people who wear pins that will shift seeing a person wearing a pin from an unfamiliar novelty to a level of recognition that is as ubiquitous as the meaning that is tied to the wearing of a red ribbon. We believe this campaign can spark a chain reaction and ongoing communication so that nobody has to feel alone.
To join the WHO campaign, click here.
- What are you doing to acknowledge WHO World Health Day?
- How are you reaching out to refugees?
Alyson Lofthouse is the Senior Associate Director of the Global Health Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health. She serves as the primary advisor to the Deans for Academic Affairs regarding strategic direction and leadership in developing and administering a comprehensive global health program. Alyson uses her academic training and international experience, including work in Bolivia, Haiti, Mexico, and Switzerland, to identify and develop new partnerships and alliances for collaborative activities in global health research and practice. Additionally, Alyson teaches in the public health baccalaureate program at UIC and is adjunct faculty in the master of public health program at DePaul University.
Alyson is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in community health sciences at UIC. Alyson has earned a fellowship within Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy as well as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. She holds a master’s degree from UIC and a graduate certificate in Humanitarian Health Program Management from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England.