'Girls are more likely to get depressed than boys'

Psychiatric Disability Organisation of Kenya founder Iregi Mwenja during an interview in Nakuru on March 28, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Suicides and depression rates among youth have been climbing in recent years.

Many young people have died of drug overdose, illicit drugs, or hanged themselves, with the deaths being blamed on depression or addiction.

While some of the victims showed withdrawal symptoms or looked disturbed, others looked okay with their deaths hitting their families like a thunderbolt. Some (victims) were reportedly "smiling and lively" before their dangling lifeless bodies and suicide notes were discovered by relatives or schoolmates.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks suicide as the second leading cause of death among youth aged between 15 and 29. The WHO statistics show that two people commit suicide every minute worldwide.

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According to Psychiatric Disability Organisation Kenya founder Iregi Mwenja, depression is common and cases are on the rise as a result of a number of issues including technological advancement and lifestyle change.

“The good thing however is the increased awareness that such cases still affect a majority in the society,” said Mr Mwenja.

Statistics, he added, show that people aged between 14 and 29 are more likely to suffer from depression.

Lifestyle change

Women and girls are more likely to suffer depression than boys within the said age bracket. Some 10 per cent of females aged between 14 and 29 are more likely to get depressed than males who are at five per cent.

Growth of the internet, social media and web-based gaming have also increased cases of addiction and lifestyle change, factors that have led to a rise in depression cases.

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“Addiction is part of depression, just like being suicidal. Internet addiction is a common phenomenon driving many to depression. In social media, people tend to compare their lifestyles with others, comparing the milestones that sometimes pushes one into depression,” he said.

Studies indicate that 10.8 per cent of Kenyans have a mental illness at any point in time, but the Government only injects 0.01 per cent of the health expenditure on mental health.

The country, only has 62 Government psychiatrists, meaning chances of one meeting a qualified psychiatrist are very minimal.

The statistics, said Mwenja, makes mental health care practically inaccessible to most Kenyans particularly those who deserve it most – the poor and socially excluded groups.

Although depression is common, pointing out cases can be at times tricky, with patients showing different signs.

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Whereas some become withdrawn, lose interest in what they love doing, change eating habits, lock themselves indoors or post suicidal messages on social media, others put on a brave face - they smile a lot, work perfectly until they finally explode.

Cases that bring out symptoms, he said, are easy to point out and even treat where patients are given drugs, undergo therapies and get social support.

Working environment

He said police, prison warders and soldiers are more likely to get depressed because of their working environment.

In cases of extreme depression, patients start showing symptoms and can become psychotic - conversing with themselves or even become suicidal to the point of being hospitalised.

“Any mental illness can however be treated and a person can fully recover. Cases should however be arrested when at mild stages before they become severe,” added Mwenja.

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Serah Muindi, a psychologist at HopeWell Counselling Centre, told The Standard that there was a worrying trend of increased depression cases because people are unable to cope with issues affecting them.

She noted that lack of support and understanding coupled with pressure of expectations has forced many people to commit suicide.

"We are also facing a challenge in anger management where people are unable to control their rage and end up killing their loved ones," she said.

According to Dr Muindi, the Government has a task to ensure that they employ psychologists in schools who will step in and avert such cases.

"Life skill training should also be conducted among students so that they can learn how to cope with emerging trends of stress and depression," she said.

"A similar support structure should also be provided to parents so that they can listen and address issues raised by their children."

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World Health OrganisationSuicides and depression