By Job Osazuwa
The other day, a chartered accountant with a telecommunication outfit, Folake Abiola, ended her life. Until her death, she lived at Abayomi Kukomi Close in Osapa London, Lekki, Lagos State.
The 45-year-old graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State. She was fondly called Lady Flakky, even as she described herself on her Facebook page as witty, sharp and real.
While it was speculated that she committed suicide because of lack of a husband or a child, family and close colleagues said she had been suffering from depression over the years and she ended her relationships twice in the last seven years because of the condition.
A close source said that the lady was not talking to people; she always kept to herself. However, a colleague described Abiola as an angel, a conscientious accountant and a lover of Christ who was liberal in giving, adding that she had been saying she wanted to end it all, before she finally took her life.
Many Nigerians, including celebrities, have suffered one form of depression or the other.
Tee Billz, the ex-husband of popular songstress, Tiwa Savage, had a tough time when his marriage failed in 2018. Their marriage crashed after Tee Billz accused Tiwa of infidelity. The talent manager, on Instagram, hinted to his followers of his decision to end his life at the bridge located in Lekki-Ikoyi.
Similarly, Nigerian rapper, Modupe- Oreoluwa Ola, popularly known as Mo’Cheddah, revealed sometime ago that she was depressed and almost committed suicide in 2018.
Media personality, Toke Makinwa, also disclosed that she tried killing herself at some point after her marriage with popular fitness expert, Maje Ayida, failed.
The former BBNaija reality star, Alex, also made it known on her Instagram page that she almost committed suicide in 2019. She disclosed that she wanted to end her life because things were not going the way she wanted.
Controversial actress, Tonto Dikeh, also in a post on her Instagram page, disclosed that she suffered depression in 2013 and attempted to take her life. However, she overcame her plight.
World-celebrated Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, also revealed her struggle with depression in 2015. The list is endless.
A graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Gabriel Oruma, told the reporter in late 2021 that he was losing it, having searched for a good job without any luck for seven years since he got his degree.
“Depression is real. At a point, I felt I was useless and not fit to live. I tried my hands at so many things but they were not yielding expected results. I must have written more than 100 applications to different companies, yet I remained jobless for seven years. Thank God that I got a visa to Europe; that was my saving grace,” he said.
Many people feel sad, lonely or depressed now and then. It is accepted as a normal reaction to loss, disappointment, life’s struggles or injured self-esteem.
But when these feelings become overwhelming and begin to cause physical symptoms, and last for long periods of time, they can keep the individual from leading a normal or active life or both. It becomes harder to do the things you love. Therefore, that might just be the time to seek medical help.
When not best managed by experts, it may get worse and last for months, even years. It can cause pain and possibly lead to suicide, as it does for about one out of every ten people with depression.
Over the years, it has been discovered that recognising the symptoms is important. Unfortunately, about half of the people who have depression don’t know or never get it diagnosed or treated.
Studies have revealed that women are about twice more likely than men to become depressed. Though no one is sure what is responsible for this, health experts believe that the hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage, and menopause that women go through at different times of their lives may play a role and increase the risk.
Other factors that boost the risk of clinical depression in women who are biologically vulnerable to it include increased stress at home or at work, balancing family life with career, and caring for an aging parent. Raising a child alone may also play a role.
Mental health condition can affect anybody; it spares no one, regardless of their age, gender, creed, ethnic, religion or economic and social status. Some persons are lucky to survive it to tell their stories, but many others have been sent to the grave beyond.
It is estimated that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of adults may suffer an episode of major depression at some point during their lifetime.
Depression is the feeling of severe despondency and dejection. It is a mental disorder that is characterised by a persistent loss of interest in activities, which in turn causes significant impairment in daily routine of the particular individual.
To check a protracted depression and to avoid further complication, family members and colleagues as well as other support groups are to give the necessary support to the patient.
At a seminar on mental health in Lagos, a psychiatrist, Oluwaniyi Stephen, told Daily Sun a number of factors that could lead to depression.
He said: “Depression is a mental issue. There are many people walking around or even going to work with mental health issues. At that stage, it is still not yet a disorder but that does not mean there is no issue.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines complete health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. Note, it is not because an individual does not have a disease. For an individual to claim to be in a healthy state, he or she must function optimally in all the points raised in the definition above. WHO also defines mental health as a state of being which an individual is able to achieve his full potential; can cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to his community,” Oluwaniyi said.
The expert said some of the early symptoms of the ailment are persistent deviation for days or weeks; feeling unhappy; lack of energy to do one’s normal job and irrational thoughts. He called for the need to quickly consult a doctor.
On what causes clinical depression, a medical journal, published on March 8, 2021, described depression as a complex disease that can happen for a variety of reasons. It stated that some people have depression during a serious medical illness; others could be as a result of life changes such as a move or the death of a loved one, while some patients might have a family history of depression.
“Lots of things can increase the chance of depression, including the following: Abuse. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can make you more vulnerable to depression later in life.
“People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. That can be made worse by other factors, such as living alone and having a lack of social support. Depression in someone who has the biological vulnerability to it may result from personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends.
“Certain medications such as isotretinoin (used to treat acne), the antiviral drug interferon-alpha, and corticosteroids, can increase your risk of depression.
“Sadness or grief after the death or loss of a loved one, though natural, can increase the risk of depression. Sometimes, depression happens along with a major illness or may be triggered by another medical condition.
“A family history of depression may increase the risk. It’s thought that depression is a complex trait, meaning there are probably many different genes that each exert small effects, rather than a single gene that contributes to disease risk. The genetics of depression, like most psychiatric disorders, are not as simple or straightforward as in purely genetic diseases such as Huntington’s chorea or cystic fibrosis.
“Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring. However, the syndrome of clinical depression is never just a “normal” response to stressful life events.
“Problems such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group can contribute to the risk of developing clinical depression.
“Nearly 30 per cent of people with substance misuse problems also have major or clinical depression. Even if drugs or alcohol temporarily make you feel better, they ultimately will aggravate depression.
The journal further revealed that depression is a complex illness with many contributing factors.
“We know that depression can sometimes run in families. This suggests that there’s at least a partial genetic link to depression. Children, siblings, and parents of people with severe depression are somewhat more likely to have depression than are members of the general population. Multiple genes interacting with one another in special ways probably contribute to the various types of depression that run in families. Yet despite the evidence of a family link to depression, it is unlikely that there is a single “depression” gene, but rather, many genes that each contributes small effects toward depression when they interact with the environment,” it added.
Also contributing, a consultant psychiatrist on adolescent mental health, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Ogun State, Mrs. Aina Kikelomo Oyekanmi, said for the fact that one is not hospitalised in Yaba or Aro does not mean he or she is mentally stable. She explained that mental health has to do with the functioning of the brain.
“When we are talking of mental health, the reason we are different from other mammals is just our mental functioning. Others’ minds are not as developed as humans. Mental health is like a springboard that will make you achieve your potential in life. And anyone can come down with mental illness.
“The brain is a like a series of electrical wires. Except they are rightly connected, they cannot function. At birth, the brain connection is very small. Between the ages of zero to five, the brain is 90 per cent connected. If you want to inculcate good habits into your child, it is at that time because the brain is still malleable. What determines the mental configuration is what is stored in. This stage is very important because it might be able to change in future,” she said.
According to Oyekanmi, the advent of technology was also mounting unnecessary pressures on many young ones. She stated that youths and teens now have sleepless nights surfing the Internet for irrelevant things.
She said a lot of people that are taking irrational decision, such as suicide, is as a result of their inability to control their impulses, cope with stress, preserver or tolerate frustrations.
On his part, a psychiatrist, Edebi Otete, said it was unfortunate that many people delay in seeking solution to mental health issue while others who make attempt prefer other places instead of neuropsychiatric hospital.
He urged doctors and other caregivers to collaborate with NGOs to act as advocates to families who are battling with mental health issues.
An author and life coach, Mr. Abiola Salami, stated in his book that many people were suffering from depression, but were unaware of the symptoms.
In his book, “The Magic of Emotional Intelligence: How Champions Apply Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Peak Performance and Advancement in Life,” he said depression was like sadness and grief on steroids.
According to him, in times past, many developing countries downplayed depression, but in recent times, especially since the advent of social media, the number of people who have left their suicide notes has proven that it is not something to be taken lightly.
Said he: “Depression is not just a mere feeling. It is a serious illness and requires as much attention as cancer or any other terminal illness (because it often leads to the death of those who experience it). There is a growing number of deaths due to depression and we hear of a case of suicide almost every week.
“I believe that most of these deaths could be avoided if only we paid more attention to our loved ones. In actual fact, depressed people usually appear happy on the outside, so it makes observing them difficult. Of utmost concern is the fact that a lot of people who have depression do not recognise that they do. Worse still, they feel they have no right to be depressed because they know other people who had been through the exact same situation that caused them to be depressed and handled it better. So they decide to hide the condition or take their own lives.”
The author, who said he had also passed through depression, listed some of the symptoms to look out for to include continuous low mood or sadness, feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, low self-esteem, feeling guilt-ridden, irritable and intolerant of others, and having no motivation or interest in things.
Other symptoms are finding it difficult to make decisions, not getting any enjoyment out of life, feeling anxious or worried, and having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming oneself.
Salami encouraged anyone passing through depression to acknowledge their state, avoid being hard on themselves, avoid solitude, and seek professional help.
“I want to say at this point that you can survive depression. A lot of successful people around the world have done so and used their experience to serve humanity.
“Though it’s possible to survive depression, one of the things you must be careful about is not to come out of it with a negative mindset. On a personal note, I have experienced depression and I know that it was a real fight to overcome,” he added.
COVID-19 impact on mental health
It has also been revealed that not less than one in six young Nigerians aged 15-24 often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things, or are worried, nervous or anxious as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was gotten from an international survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup of children and adults in 21 countries, including Nigeria.
In the survey, previewed in The State of the World’s Children 2021 – a median of 1 in 5 young people aged 15–24 said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things.
Warning that the pandemic has taken its toll and that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come, UNICEF urged for breaking the silence surrounding mental illness, addressing stigma and promoting better understanding of mental health and taking seriously the experiences of everyone.
UNICEF called on governments, and public and private sector partners, to commit, communicate and act to promote mental health for everyone by protecting those in need of help and care for the most vulnerable, by investing in mental health across sectors, not just in health, to support a whole-of-society approach to prevention, promotion and care.
It raised the alarm that almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.
There are a lot of signs of depression, but you may not have them all. How intense they are, and how long they last are different from person to person.
Some of the ways it might manifest are: Sadness, emptiness or anxiousness. It will continue over time without getting better or going away.
Helpless, worthless or guilty: You may feel bad about yourself or your life, or think a lot about losses or failures.
Hopeless: You may be pessimistic or believe that nothing good will ever happen. You may even think about suicide.
You may get restless or more cranky than usual. There will be less interest in activities. Hobbies or games you usually enjoy may not appeal to you anymore. You may have little or no desire to eat or have sex.
There is also the problem of being less energetic. You may feel extremely tired or think more slowly. Daily routines and tasks may seem too hard to manage.
Others may include: Trouble in concentrating, remembering details and making decisions, fatigue, feelings of guilt and helplessness. There are also insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or sleeping too much irritability and restlessness.
Other symptoms are: aches, pains, headaches or cramps that won’t go away, digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment, persistent sadness, anxious, or “empty” feelings.
There is usually trouble in concentrating – could be tough to focus. Simple things like reading a newspaper or watching television programmes may be hard. You may have trouble remembering details. It might seem overwhelming to make a decision, whether it’s big or small.
Depression often leads to weight gain or weight loss because of the change in eating pattern.
When to seek medical help
Since everyone is bound to periodically experience one form of depression or the other, one question that readily comes to mind is what could be the exact time that one should see a doctor.
In order to avoid complication and its inherent dangers, experts have advised that if your symptoms of depression are causing problems with relationships, work, or your family, and there isn’t a clear solution, then you should quickly see a professional. Talking with a mental health counsellor or doctor can help prevent things from getting worse, especially if your symptoms stay for any length of time.
Some strong warning signs
Researches have proven that depression carries a high risk of suicide. So, suicidal thoughts or intentions are serious signs.
Other warning signs may include: A sudden switch from sadness to extreme calmness or appearing to be unnecessarily happy. Clinical depression may include deep sadness, loss of interest, repeated trouble sleeping and eating that gets worse.
The patient begins to take risks that could lead to death, such as driving through against traffic or over speeding. He or she might start making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless.
Causes at a glance
Experts believe that depression is due to a combination of different challenges. It could, therefore, be difficult to pin it down to a particular factor.
A family therapist and counselor, Mrs. Caroline Adebisi, said recently on a television programme that depression affect different people in different ways.
“It doesn’t always look like what you read on the pages of newspapers or see on television. There is so much peculiarity when managing it. The approach that worked perfectly in case A might fail woefully in case B,” she said.
Brain structure: The way certain nerve pathways or circuits in your brain send information may not work properly. Scans show that the parts of your brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior look different when you’re depressed, but scientists aren’t sure why.
Depression can run in families, but that doesn’t mean you’ll develop depression just because someone you’re related to has it. And you may have the condition even if no one else in your family has it.
Childhood problems: People who have disturbing experiences in childhood are more likely to have depression. It may be from brain changes caused by trauma at a young age. Sometimes, though, such big stresses can bring serious symptoms of depression.
Other conditions are illness, long-term pain, anxiety, sleep problems and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may also be linked to depression.
Some common triggers or causes of clinical depression include: Loss of a loved one through death, divorce or separation, social isolation or feelings of being deprived.
Other causes are traceable to job change, retirement, personal conflicts in relationships, either with a subordinate or a superior, physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Substance abuse: Nearly 30 per cent of people who abuse drugs or alcohol have depression. Some people misuse substances when they feel down. For others, heavy use of alcohol or drugs can bring on depression symptoms, especially later in life.
Most people feel sad or low at some point in their lives. But clinical depression is marked by a depressed mood most of the day, sometimes particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships – symptoms that are present every day for at least two weeks.
A constant sense of hopelessness and despair is a sign you may have major depression, also known as clinical depression.