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Depression and our culture of neglect

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depressionTHOUGH it barely makes news headlines as most Nigerians are more seriously concerned with the question of survival, the stark reality before us is that mental disorder is as serious and prevalent as a number of other physical maladies. In fact, over 64 million Nigerians suffer from some form of mental illness or the other, and on specifics, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 2017 report reveals that about 7,079,815 Nigerians suffer from depression. But, unfortunately, those who suffer from mental health problems are neglected, much as they are stigmatized. Depression being the most common type of mental disorder has its origins in perpetual sadness. It is characterised by persistently low moods and a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Other symptoms include mood swings at times accompanied by unexplained weeping, feelings of apathy, worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness, irritability or guilt, sleep problems, appetite disturbances, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, decreased sex drive, avoiding social situations, increased anxiety and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.  In short, when you feel depressed, your world stops working. You can feel stuck, emotionless, and empty. It is like living in a body that tries to survive with a mind that wants to die.

While there are no specific causes of  depression, it could develop as a result of  genetic composition, early development exposure and problems, neurological and psychological experiences as well as environmental lifestyle and stresses. We live in the age of mass unemployment in the face of a contrasting economy, unparalleled inequality, deep systematic irrationality, and frightening hypocrisy. People are being pulled in opposing directions, and for as many as possible, it’s  just too much—unable to gracefully cope with the changes of an evolving society, they break down, deep down into depression. Accordingly, studies have also shown that 4 out of every 10 women and one out of every 10 men are diagnosed with some form of clinical depression.

Yet, the idea that depression is a clinical condition that requires treatment is almost unheard of, as the most common response to depression, especially among Nigerians, is that depressed people should “get over it” and “get on with life, God would take control.” This attitude represents a chronic misunderstanding of the difference between stress—which is generally only somewhat emotional, and depression which is deeply emotional and therefore requiring clinical attention. It is indeed disheartening that in spite of the outcry that greeted previous incidents of suicide cases that has thus far sensitized us to the subject, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is still at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish. In any case, our culture treats people with mental issues as if there is something significantly wrong wrong with them; as if mental health disorder is different from any other medical disorder. This is the sense in which stigma arises.

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For this reason, many sufferers prefer to hush on discourses and discussions that have to do with mental issues, choosing to reinforce the mythical image of a strong African man/woman who can weather any storm of life than seek for necessary help. On the other hand, those who find the courage to express their state of mind have often been treated with lackadaisical responses.  For instance, a statement or a threat to kill oneself is met with a sarcastic remark or a religious ritual to cast the demon out or simply a prayer of “it is not your portion in Jesus name,” “you shall live and not die!” and so on. Well,  Amen. But then, let’s face it: it is easier to acknowledge or treat a disease that can be visibly seen than one that appears ‘simply in your head’, making it hard to come to terms with and curb the spate of mental depression and disorder around. Yet, this is what is direly needed as it is necessary to undertake the widespread education of the Nigerian public on the recognition of mental health disorder as a disease and then the need for societal and family support and the avoidance of neglect and stigmatization of people suffering from such disorders. Clinical depression is not something people can handle on their own. It affects the body chemically, emotionally and psychologically and only a trained expert can properly treat it.

In view of this, it is time to start treating mental health with  the serious concern it requires. We all have a part to play in encouraging people experiencing these symptoms to seek help from a psychiatrist, in addition to lending a listening ear and encouraging hand. It is not only those who are easily identified as mentally ill by our society that should see a psychiatrist, even those who suspect that they are likely to break down should be encouraged to avail themselves of expert attention. It is also worth noting that, ill patient ordinarily goes to a doctor for consultation with the hope that through his/her expertise, the person could get much needed help. This same process and understanding hold true for mental health challenges and thus, seeking expert attention and care  is nothing to be ashamed of, looked down upon or done in secrecy.

While calling for increased awareness on the treatment and management of mental health disorder, the hope is that depressed people are no longer forced to deal with their condition on their own due to the culture of negligence and stigmatization in our society. Clinical depression is not something to be suppressed or handled in secrecy and when the misguided public opinion of depression causes sufferers to stay silent, the results can often be tragic. Hence, we need to reduce the stigma attached to depression, increase the availability of support, and encourage an environment in which we feel comfortable approaching those who might be struggling psychologically to help and support them in seeking expert attention rather than neglecting and suppressing them. We all have a duty in that regard to help the society to treat depression and other forms of mental health disorder with the attention they deserve.

  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba.

The post Depression and our culture of neglect appeared first on Tribune.

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