By Abdulwarees Solanke
In my third year as a student of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, I took two courses in psychology. My teacher was the erudite Prof. Peter Omoluabi. Taking those two foundation courses in psychology, I came to appreciate that many afflictions hitherto assumed to be spiritual attack, particularly in traditional African setting like ours and which pushed many to enslave themselves under some so-called men of God, fake spiritualists and herbalists, not following the right course of clinical or medical diagnosis, are simply depression. Money is wasted; relationships are strained as the innocent are wrongly accused of being behind the predicaments of victims of depression whose situation is often compounded by the way and manner friends, colleagues in office and family members, nuclear or extended, treat the depressed.
Eventually, the victims may be lost in the process of exorcising the ‘demons’ oppressing them. When the victims should be positively assisted, worst punishments are often inflicted on them; when such should be supported, they are estranged from their loved ones; when they should be given hope, they are labelled as mentally deranged by those around them. As their situation deteriorates, they are abandoned to die silently or allowed to snap and burst on the street. We now call them mad men and women to run away from, when we should have prevented them from becoming our embarrassment. They may also choose to end it all in grotesque circumstance of plunge into the lagoon, self-poisoning or hanging from the ceiling fan hook.
As a young editor in the early 2000 (Deputy Editor, The Monitor on Sunday) when I controlled many pages of the defunct Ibadan-based newspaper, published by the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, Alhaji Abdulazeez Arisekola Alao, I felt concerned that mental health issues were hardly featured in the newspapers. As I took special interest in this aspect of health, having read quite some family health literature from the bookshelves of my brother-in-law, Alhaji Ariyayo Azeez, a prominent Ibadan-based broadcaster who retired from the services of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State few years ago and died on Christmas day few weeks ago, I resolved to make a difference in health feature on the pages of The Monitor on Sunday. I sought out an expert at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. I found one in Professor. Yinka Omigbodun who I conscripted to be our columnist on the Mental Health Page introduced in The Monitor. Every week, I ‘troubled’ Prof to ensure that the column does not fail. She did not disappoint in her flawless treatment of various aspects of mental health.
As I was the editor or the chief proof reader of that page, I digested every bit of her thoughts on mental health I was most benefitted. I also began acquiring some literatures on mental health. Listening to Prozaic was one of the books I purchased on the book stands.
I had had some collections on diets and emotional issues. I took especially to Prof. Omigbodun’s analysis of the causes or predisposing factors of depression; I was sensitive to her advice in her columns on how to relate with persons living with depression; I followed her warnings on lifestyles that can lead to depression. From her weekly essays I learnt to take life easy. The lessons from Omigbodun were very invaluable to me on how not be depressed by the vicissitudes of life or how to recover wholesomely from losses.
Today, depression is the albatross of many families, especially the rich and the mighty. Yet, they don’t want to talk about it because of the fear of being referred to the psychiatrist or in order to avoid the stigma of ‘madness’. Yet, their lifestyle is at the root of their depression. Their insatiable quest for wealth accumulation, their uncommon ambition, their losses and failures in business, the drugs they take in order to be ‘high’ and active, the problems of their problem-children, wayward or dull, the pressure of their high offices and the disappointments or loss of their beloved are behind the sickness they are trying to cover up instead of seeking attention on time. It is worse for those in in sports or the creative industry: writers, artists, musicians, poets, film-makers as those who belong to this class are mostly misunderstood, yet driven to the extremes in the bid to break through. They are also exploited by those who surround them as personal physicians, chaperons, advisers or even fake matrimonial mates or live-in lovers.
In my reflections on this issue published in the Punch some ten years ago, I noted that the quintessential artist expresses his love in poems, lyrics and ballads for his beloved; sculptures and paintings for his soul mates’. Every family has its own artistic prodigy, every epoch and clime has their geniuses and masters. But many have been wasted because their world and era did not recognize or appreciate their talents. Parents may be responsible for the rebellion of their children prodigies; the society may be blameworthy for the deviance of their gifted ones. Husbands and wives may be behind artists’ desperation and depression, eventual failure or suicide. We have seen so many in the arts world and the political class.
Reading in the newspapers some three years ago that a Governor in one of the south east states returned his to her mother because of her health predicament which she herself confirmed to be depression, I was sad that we took such health issue wrongly. Everything about the development was a pointer to the fact that the situation was poorly managed. If such depressing development could rise in a state house with state resources to salvage the situation before becoming a political embarrassment and liability, worse things would happen to families without means. Now, the ace Ivorien football player, 34 year old Emmanuel Eboue is another illustration of depression. He committed suicide.
Virtually skinned of his means of life by his European wife in a most exploitative divorce, Emmanuel who had laced his boots for the best of football teams in Europe found no support in his depressing state. Last week, he found a honourable way’ to end it all, by hanging himself in London. Perhaps many victims of depression have been dumped into the Bar Beach or buried alive because they do not want them to stain family reputation. It’s time to talk about depression more openly; for its victims might after all outnumber those of HIV/AIDS that is the subject of international campaign and public expenditure.