Stand by people prone to depression and truly assist them to get help

Depression. Suicide. These are taboo words especially when spoken in reference to men. At the turn of the year, one of Kenya’s top dons jumped from the top floor of a major hotel having spent several days alone over the family focused New Year. The hush-hush around his death affirms the taboo that surrounds this issue.

A couple of months before, a top-level executive had jumped from his plush office to a gruesome death. Last year, an associate of mine in his 50s checked into a hotel room and died from what we now know was suicide. When I had made enquiries, there was the usual evasiveness that surrounds such deaths. These three and a myriad others generally successful and flourishing on the outside. But in their minds, life had ceased to have meaning and they had taken that most grim of decisions; to take their own lives.

The World Health Organisation estimates that well over a million people die from suicide every year. They expect that rate to double in the next ten years, which should cause worry. While Africa records relatively lower suicide rates, most analysts believe such rates are understated due to under reporting. But anecdotal evidence points to a crisis growing worse every year. It is important to also note that not every depression leads to suicide.

Many depression cases are of the mild type, that may mutate to acuteness if not addressed. These kinds of depression, especially among men, are dangerously high. For the avoidance of doubt not every sadness and feeling of failure is a sign of depression. Many of the latter feelings tend to go away.

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Depression is a prolonged mood disorder that eventually makes a person incapable of feeling, thinking or handling common activities, thus tempting them to end their lives. One of the challenges for men is that the symptoms of depression among them are deceptive. Depression in women exhibits itself in feelings of sadness and gloom and is therefore easy to diagnose. Women also tend to speak about their feelings and can therefore seek and obtain help more readily. In men however, depression generally exhibits itself as anger, irritation and aggression.

Consequently most families, friends and even doctors sometimes do not recognise depression in men. We also live in a culture where men are supposed to “toughen up” and not express feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and failure. Many men resort to alcohol, substance abuse and sometime the occasional illicit relationship to dull the aloneness and pain that comes from depression. Naturally this approach is not sustainable and something eventually gives.

The rates of depression are higher as men get older. By the time most men are in their 50s, their life path has been defined. If they were employed they have reached their peak and been humbled by occasional failures even in the midst of latent success. If they are in business, they will have carried the pains of the failures that come with growing a business. Many men will have spent little time with their families thus will have weak or no relationships with their children. Every day they are reminded that they have failed in this or the other. It is no wonder that many sink into despair which they handle alone.  

What are we to do? I am no medical practitioner but I know that many cases of acute depression require medical help. In many situations, however, milder depression types can be mitigated. The first thing for we men is to redefine success and to re-invest our energies in things that last, like relationships, especially with our children. The second is to surround yourself and form strong relationships with fellow men with whom you can be free to express failure and self-doubt. With these men look for something which assists others less fortunate. Go to an old people’s home and brighten their day. Today’s selfie-isque focus on self is part of why we exaggerate our inadequacies. For those that live with someone prone to depression, stand by them, assist them get help. You will save a life.  

- The writer is Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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