Depression: A looming silent epidemic

•One out of every five Nigerians suffer it –Experts •Better standard of living more important than psychiatric centres –Dr Umeh


In 2019, a notable Nigerian newspaper in a report, described depression as a lethal killer that lives with many Nigerians and yet, it is not regarded as a serious illness.


Suicide is said to be the end result of depression. Several psychiatric specialists have disclosed that in many occasions, a suicide victim at some point must have shown signs of depression before taking their own life.


According to Regina Eya, a professor of Psychology at University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who also lectures at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, before someone commits suicide, the person must have shown signs of depression for a while and probably discovered that he or she cannot cope any more.


A medical consultant in clinical psychologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr Charles Umeh, described depression as a mood disorder with so many components.


The components consist of the cognitive aspect, emotional aspect, behavioural aspect and these components can be impacted at the same time causing depression. He further explained that depression can vary according to severity, which could be mild, moderate or severe.


There are also moods where the person would be having psychotic symptoms, like hearing voices talking to them which others cannot hear. In his word: “There are times in life or circumstances that make us to feel sad.


That is a normal emotional reaction to something. When sadness persists, most of the time in a day and the sadness is on for like two weeks nonstop, we as professionals will suspect that such a person is having depression.


“Sadness is not the only factor that will make us diagnose depression. If the sadness persists for two weeks, and such a person experiences lack of interest in things that used to make him or her happy, and then the person who is usually active gets withdrawn.


Also, when things that usually give the person joy do not make sense to him or her anymore; if this prevailing mood is on for at least two weeks, we can say that something in the line of depression is happening.”


Africans, especially Nigerians believe that depression is an illness that is synonymous to people in developed countries or white people alone. Added to this perception is the fear of stigma.


An average Nigerian believes going to see a psychologist simply means such a person is already mad. The reoccurring cases of suicide is gradually serving as an eye opener to Nigerian citizens that there is need to pay attention to depression. On Tuesday, a fresh suicide case was in the news reports about a 200 level Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, student, identified as Adedeji Emmanuel, who committed suicide by consuming a popular pesticide, Sniper.


According to reports, Emmanuel’s unfortunate death came nearly a month after one of the armed guards in the security department of the same institution named Fisayo Oyeniyi, killed himself at his residence after sending a suicide text to his mother, wife, and children.


The Chief Security Officer of the school, Babatunde Oyatokun, advised to students to always use the counseling unit of the school when battling psychological or academic issues.


Few years back, experts in psychology said that one out of every 10 Nigerians were depressed but a recent chat with a clinical psychologist at LUTH, who is also a lecturer in College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr Charles Umeh, revealed that the ratio has gone up due to overwhelming circumstances in the country now.


He said: “Considering the increasing rate of insecurity and bad economy, you can get a level of depression in one out of five Nigerians.”


Although he later agreed that the ratio may be worse than he presumed, Umeh stated that the standard of living of Nigerians presently, cannot be compared to what it was 20 years ago. “If we use economic indices, the fuel price, the exchange rate, the alarming unemployment rate, can someone who does not have any means of living be happy?


No. “For example, on a daily basis on Lagos roads, people face different kinds of behaviour from drivers and passengers. After going through such stressful day, you come home and all these play in your mind.


When you get to work the next day, after facing the same aggressive tedious journey, you get to work and when one asks a simple, question, you will transfer aggression because unknown to the person, you have been battling with a baggage. All these culminate in issues that lead to depression.”


The current ratio of one out of five showing signs of depression in Nigeria clearly explains the fact that many citizens would have experienced some form of depression in one way or another without knowing.


A young public relations personnel who gave his name as Phillip Osenobuwa (not his real name) told our reporter in confidence that he is a survivor of depression. Although he admitted that he couldn’t go to a psychologist for treatment, he would never wish anyone to go through the deep dark sadness he found himself after he lost all he had worked for more than 15 years in a space of one week.


“I came to Lagos from Benin in 2004 as a fresh graduate hoping to make it here in the commercial hub of Nigeria. I must commend myself that I did marvelously well. After three years of squatting with friends, I got my own apartment. I got another job and things were good.


When I thought I was at the peak of the success I was aiming for, I crashed. My wife left me and our one year marriage. I lost my apartment.


My properties were scattered in friends’ places. I even sold off most of my things. I had no place to call home and the only property to my name was my back pack. I slept in the office for weeks. People mocked me. I wanted to die,” he said.


Philip broke down recalling the deep sadness he felt during those trying times. He could not go on with the story because it was opening an old wound. He stated that depression is hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it.


“It is a kind of feeling empty inside. You feel like the whole world is against you. Praying to God seems like a waste of time. Yes, it was that bad. I lost confidence in calling on God. I could not go to church.


All I hungered for was to lock myself away and not see the world. I felt like nothing is worth it, nothing mattered. But in that time of great despair, I could call God silently in my heart. I guess that was where my help came from,” he said.


Just like Osenobuwa, there is proof that there are thousands, if not millions, of people who have lost their means livelihood to bad economy due to the raging Coronavirus pandemic. Many rich businessmen and women have found themselves on the losing crossroads because of the harsh economy and increasing level of insecurities.


While some find the strength to continue moving forward, others who cannot cope may give in into depression. It is true that poverty is one of the predictors of mental health issues but it is a fact that depression does not affect only poor people.


Some top celebrities have agreed that some of the things they read about themselves on gossip blogs are one of the reasons they get depressed. In an interview popular actress and model, Lilian Afegbai granted in 2019, she shared the story of how her first produced movie, which won her first the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Award, AMVCA, led her into depression.


“The movie I won the AMVCA award with is a challenging movie. It led me into depression. I was depressed for months. People wouldn’t understand what I went through. It was hard. Aside the fact that I never expected that award, I know what I went through. I was bullied during the movie production. Some felt I was not there and can’t make it.” In her advice, Afegbai said that money cannot cure depression.


“I think people need to start paying attention to this depression. Some of us take it for granted. We need to look out for one another. At the time when I said I was depressed, I had a lot of money. Money is not the cure for depression.


You can be very rich and still depressed. People need to pay attention to people around them. We need to start from you and I. Check up on your siblings, your neighbours. When you see someone behaving in a certain way, ask questions.


It might seem that the person has their lives put together, but it might shock you that they don’t,” she said On what needs to be done to stop depression from getting to the stage of suicide, Umeh opined that as simple as it may sound, asking people to take note of how their mood changes and seeking help when necessary is very important.


“What I am canvassing for is for people to know when they are not just feeling well, to take note of when their mood is changing. They may not be meeting any diagnosis at that point but the person should quickly go to where they can get help. The first line of treatment for depression, especially mild to moderate level of depression is psychotherapy.


So that such a person can be talked out of it. “Anybody can go into depression at any time because of the overwhelming circumstances around our existence presently but if you have someone who is well trained to handle such cases, you nip it in the bud before it becomes an issue.”


He blamed ignorance and stigma of being called ‘mad’ as some of the reasons people do not want to see a psychologist. “Unfortunately, people are afraid they will be stigmatized or called ‘mad’ when they see a psychologist.


And so, their first line of action when they have mood disorder is to look for who is responsible for their misdeed or they run into churches or spiritual places seeking for help. The more time they spend not getting treated, the situation gets worse”.


On several occasion, stakeholders in health have tasked government to create more psychiatric centres to help manage the number of mental disorder cases that come up daily but as the living condition is presently, psychologist are asking government to work towards improving standard of living for the masses, stressing that if the economy is good and there is a robust and conducive atmosphere for citizens to grow their business, people will be able to deal with other minor basic problems. “We all know that poverty is one of the predictors of mental health issues.


When people do not know where their next meal is coming from, they become depressed. “This is why crime rate and drug abuse have gone up as well. Life in Nigeria, I don’t know if it is still worth living.


Things have become unbearable for citizens. “The first solution that can help is if government can improve the standard of living of Nigerians. If they can come up with policies that will enable people have a sense of belonging. Knowing that you can work and get returns for your money, people will not fall into a state of despair.


This should be priority for government before we start talking about providing psychiatric centers,” said Dr Matthias Uffot based in Calabar said. A medical doctor based in Calabar, who gave her name as Uchenwa Ezemba, explained that with the increasing harsh conditions of living in Nigeria, more volatile behaviours should be expected from citizens.


“Things are getting worse. I don’t think Nigerians have witnessed a harsher loving conditions in history. Prices of things are high and salaries are not increasing. There are no jobs, taxes are not friendly. Families are falling apart The insecurity is worrisome. The news these days are very depressing.


At this stage, I believe every Nigerian needs a break because we may be reaching oir breaking point. Every day, the economy situation bites harder for Nigerians. Many come across heartbreaking situations either directly or through the information they consume in the media and social media.


To a huge extent, the state of mental health of average Nigerians cannot be ignored as part of the reason there are increased rate of crime, violence and continuous attack of uniform men.


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