The Challenges of Depression

Depression is a nasty devil, a silent killer that sucks the life out of the best people. It can be described as an internal time bomb that bedevils mercilessly till one is overcome by it. Drugs and alcohol often exacerbate depression. Unfortunately, the best of us can suffer from depression. We can get depressed after a major life event like having a baby, losing a job, bereavement or surviving an accident. With depression, it is hard to ‘snap out of it’. Yet, it seems that many people don’t consider that depression is a serious mental health problem. At the extreme, a depressed person can commit suicide.

Readers in Nigeria may think depression is not for Nigerians, who are made of steel or even tougher material. If the truth were to be told, the reason we are not talking about depression as we would other diseases is that we don’t like talking about our mental health problems. We want people to think we are still able to deal with our issues. Could it be that we find talking about mental health issues unnecessary because our perception of culture and religion has deluded us into thinking that talking about ailments and afflictions is bad karma?

The death of Hollywood legend and comedian Robin Williams was a stark reminder that unless aggressively tackled, severe depression can lead one to take own life. Coincidentally, suicide is the number one killer of men under 35 years in the United Kingdom, UK, today. Williams had battled alcohol and drugs and at the time of his death, he was in an uncomfortable financial place. Williams was a talented comedian and author who starred in many films.

So what is depression? How can we get it? Mind the Mental Health Charity defines depression as ‘just being in low spirits’. At this stage, it does not stop you leading your normal life, but makes life harder to live and seeming less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live. Examples of depression are seasonal affective disorder, post-natal depression and bipolar disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is related to day length and it usually comes on in the autumn and winter, when the days are short and the sun is low in the sky.

Post-natal depression is perhaps the type most women are familiar with. Post-natal depression sets in soon after the birth of baby and can last for up to two years after. Manic depression or bipolar disorder is when people have major mood swings, when periods of depression alternate with periods of mania.

Ranti woke up as normal to look after her six-month-old baby and three-year-old. After her husband left for work, she started to hear voices and she told the writer that ancestral spirits pursued her from Nigeria. She shaved off her hair and without provocation, and unrestrained, she jumped off her two-storey flat with her three-year-old. Fortunately, neither she nor her baby died. Metal rods in her hipbones are reminder of how close she came to death. Ranti can talk about post-natal depression, but how many Nigerian women are talking about it? Post-natal depression is not an affliction that targets black or white middle class women alone. Ranti tells anyone who would listen that it was God who saved her.

Severe depression – the type that Williams suffered from – must be distinguished from perhaps the ordinary depression like being depressed about a burnt attempt at making ofada rice, or friends who refuse to like your new Facebook page, traffic, heat and mosquitoes. Feeling low about the ups and downs of life is typical and commonplace synonymous with life and living. Depression becomes severe when the will to live no longer exists. Depression is a serious mental illness which must be taken seriously by media, employers and all alike.

About five in 100 adults have depression every year. Sometimes it is mild or lasts just a few weeks. However, an episode of depression serious enough to require treatment occurs in about one in four women and one in 10 men at some point in their lives. Some people have two or more episodes of depression at various times in their life. According to the Telegraph.co.uk, mental health problems are estimated to cost the NHS more than £100 billion in a year. Thankfully, societal attitude to mental health illnesses is getting better and more people in the UK are developing the confidence to come out and talk about their battles with depression.

One wonders what the situation is like in Nigeria? Are employees able to take time off work because they are depressed? Do people own up to depression?

There is a set of symptoms that are associated with depression and help to clarify the diagnosis. These are: persistent sadness or low mood, this may be with or without weepiness, marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities, even for activities that you normally enjoy. Other common symptoms include: disturbed sleep compared with your usual pattern. This may be difficulty in getting off to sleep, or waking early and being unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes it is sleeping too much, change in appetite. This is often a poor appetite and weight loss.

Sometimes the reverse happens with comfort eating and weight gain, tiredness (fatigue) or loss of energy, agitation or slowing of movements, poor concentration or indecisiveness. For example, you may find it difficult to read, work, among others. Even simple tasks can seem difficult, feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt and recurrent thoughts of death. This is not usually a fear of death, more a preoccupation with death and dying. For some people despairing thoughts such as “life’s not worth living” or “I don’t care if I don’t wake up” are common. Sometimes these thoughts progress into plans for suicide.

The exact cause is not known. Anyone can develop depression. What do you do if you are depressed? Seek help immediately. Talk preferably to a medical person as opposed to a spiritual counsellor in the first instance. Secondly, read about depression. Knowledge about a disease will help in the fight to overcome it. Thirdly, get physically fit. Many people who suffer from depression say they feel better with themselves when they have been exercising or keeping fit. Finally, pursue activities which promote inner peace. Listening to music or going on long meditative walks are also known therapeutic methods. Finally, find a community to support you and stay in touch with them.

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