Thursday, 10 April 2008

New charity to tackle depression

THE first organisation solely dedicated to aid recovery from depression is being launched in Wales tomorrow.

Journeys, based in the capital, is the UK’s first and only charity to concentrate on helping people to recover from depression, which costs the health service an estimated £417m per year.

Torchwood star Gareth David-Lloyd will join Minister for Health and Social Services Edwina Hart tomorrow lunchtime to mark the launch of the charity, formerly known as Depression Alliance Cymru.

In Wales alone, NHS statistics show 250,000 people are being treated for depression, while across the UK as a whole, one in every five people is affected by the condition.

Yet these figures are the tip of the iceberg, with an estimated three in every four cases of depression going unrecognised – and untreated.

This equates to one million people in Wales – approximately one third of the population – potentially suffering from depression at some point in their lives.

Figures from the 1991 Suicide and Homicide Study undertaken by the Home Office show that the most common cause for suicide in the UK is untreated depression, believed to account for at least 75% of suicides.

In Wales, the adult suicide rate is nearly double that of England, while amongst Wales’ young people the suicide rate is five times higher than England’s.

Tim Watkins, director of Journeys, said: “After heart disease, depression is the number one public health issue in Wales today.

“Yet whereas lots of people know and understand the health messages around heart disease, very few people hear the messages around mental health.”

Mr Watkins, himself a former sufferer of depression, continued: “Journeys is very much aimed at prevention, early diagnosis and early treatment.

“If depression is recognised early enough, then through making some fairly simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthily and doing regular exercise, the development of depression can be halted.

“But one of the major problems that we as a society face is that depression is not recognised early enough.

“We have seen depression devastating lives across Wales, ripping apart families and communities and costing the NHS and the economy billions of pounds every year through lost working hours, premature death and incapacity.

“Of the 250,000 people affected by depression in Wales many are offered inadequate services.

“These are often limited to anti-depressants and talking therapies with availability varying from county to county and waiting lists of up to six months.

“People have been suffering and becoming more and more unwell.”

Journeys states that its mission is to change the way people think about depression, helping them to take control of their lives and recover from their illness using information, resources, training courses and services.

Heavily reliant on volunteers, Journeys has a staff of four and runs on a £50,000 grant from the Welsh Assembly Government, £25,000 from trust funds and £50,000 from the European Healthy Minds at Work project, although this funding stream is about to end.

“In comparison, Mind receives around £300,000 from the Welsh Assembly Government every year and Hafod get £250,000,” said Mr Watkins, a former policy officer with the Welsh Consumer Council.

“I don’t begrudge them a penny. Yet whereas the areas of mental health they tend to deal with cover around 1% of the Welsh population – typically schizophrenia and psychosis – depression affects between 10 and 12% of people in Wales.

“Understanding depression as a solely medical condition that needs to be managed and treated is inaccurate and unhelpful,” he said.

“Just taking a pill or talking to someone once a week cannot bring about recovery.

“Journeys is leading the way in combating depression in Wales with an innovative range of self-help courses and training.”

Anyone can contact Journeys – a GP referral is not needed – although Mr Watkins stressed that the organisation does not provide a counselling helpline.

Instead it is an information resource and will help sufferers to help themselves, via leaflets, specialist audio books, interactive CD-Roms and introductions to the 25 self-help groups that meet weekly around Wales.

Mr Watkins said: “We need at least two more staff to be based here in Cardiff to help co-ordinate our information resources.

“If we had a donation of £1 from every person in Wales who suffers from depression we would have enough money to provide the services we would like to be able to provide.”

Huw Lloyd, chairman of the Mental Health Group at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “As a GP, I have been aware of the support and help that this organisation has offered to my patients and the benefits that this has brought to them and their families.”

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