Let’s call her Rebecca. Rebecca is a Christian mother of one who was in an abusive marriage for years. We only noticed when things became worse. To cut a long story short, she killed her baby and almost committed suicide but for passers-by who got hold of her naked body just before she could jump in front of a train. Rebecca has been in a mental health care center for 4 years now. When asked why she didn’t seek help while she was abused, she said “I was afraid of what people will say when they find out my husband beat me, I wanted to protect him and our name”.
Depression: Let’s Talk!
Let’s talk depression is the theme for this year’s World Health Day’s celebration. I watched a documentary some time ago which documented the life of a fellow African living with depression in Nigerian. What saddened me most was the fact that this man was stigmatized, called a witch and excluded from the community. The sad fact is, he is one of many such depression cases in Africa. But first let’s find out what depression is.
Depression is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as
“An illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. In addition, people with depression normally have several of the following symptoms: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide”.
The WHO has ranked this disease the second leading cause of death among 15-29-years olds. Alarming isn’t it? Yet, it can be prevented and even treated if we inform ourselves and better understand the causes and possible consequences of depression, how and where to seek help and especially if our families, friends, and community members provide support to those suffering.
Why people become depressed
Depression or mental illness can be triggered by one or more of the following reasons; poverty, unemployment, life events such as the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup, child abuse, physical illness and problems caused by alcohol and drug use. Some studies found that people with cardiovascular diseases may also suffer from depression at some point. So the list of triggers is not limited to this list.
Who can be affected by depression?
Unlike what many believe, anyone can be depressed. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t depend on your socio-economic status, your race or your religion. The disease affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries.
Why Africans shy away from help
Most often than not, people who suffer from depression are stigmatized. This stigma is the main reason why patients refuse to talk until is too late. In the African society, people with depression are considered a curse and excluded from the society. Some families go as far as abandoning their relatives who have depression to themselves. Also, some religious organizations believe that depression is from the devil and that a child of God cannot be depressed. All these factors make it even more difficult for patients especially Africans to seek help and receive treatment.
Can depression be prevented and treated?
Yes! Preventing the disease can be achieved simply by breaking the stigma around it. Talking about depression, in the family, workplace, church setting will go a long way to prevent the disease and help break down stigma which will ultimately lead to more patients getting help. Also, through psychological programs and therapy and anti-depressant drug treatments can go a long way to treat moderate to severe depression.
Take Home Message from the WHO
- The risk of becoming depressed is increased by poverty, unemployment, life events such as the death of a loved one or a relationship breakup, physical illness and problems caused by alcohol and drug use.
- It causes mental anguish and can impact on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends.
- Untreated, it can prevent people from working and participating in family and community life.
- At worst, depression can lead to suicide.
- It can be effectively prevented and treated. Treatment usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of these.
- Overcoming the stigma often associated with depression will lead to more people getting help.
- Talking with people you trust can be a first step towards recovery from depression.
Are you or someone you know feeling depressed? Please get help. Mental illness is nothting to be ashamed of. Talk to someone you can trust. Know that it is not your fault or curse. You or they can be treated if you/they seek help NOW. Be encouraged. You are not alone. For more information please read the WHO fact sheets on depression.