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Depression is rampant but help is inadequate

By Sharon Tanui | June 23rd 2020

In the recent past, one of my acquaintances committed suicide due to depression. His family and friends could not understand why he decided to end it all yet according to them, he had such a promising future.

In our eyes, he was an ‘A’ student, healthy, happy man. He makes for the mounting percentage of people who suffer in silence every day. Depression affects a large population not only globally but also nationally. The coronavirus pandemic has, of course, made matters worse.

It is a mental illness that is characterised by constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness. According to WHO, “close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.” In today’s society, a small percentage of people choose to understand what depression is and how it can affect a nation as a whole. The truth of the matter is, anyone can suffer from the illness, so judging those affected is considered callous.

The young people, precisely those in high school, college and job seekers are largely affected today. Challenges are normal in life, but at times, they no longer challenge us to be better people but see us take a dive into the dark shell of depression. The stress levels elevate and those symptoms of depression begin to manifest especially if there is no one around to empathise with the affected.

They begin to isolate themselves, experience insomnia or sleeping too much, they get unexplained headaches, feel empty and their concentration and thinking levels decrease, among other symptoms. When someone is depressed, part of the brain that is responsible for memory and emotions is affected.

Brain scans

According to one Prof Ian Anderson of University of Manchester (Centre for Brain Imaging), “the hippocampus is part of the brain where depression shows up.” According to his brain scans, 25 per cent of the grey matter of the depressed patients becomes less as the illness progresses and the hippocampus shrinks and becomes smaller.

It is not simple to identify a depressed person since people wear proverbial masks and show off unrealistic happy-go-lucky kind of lifestyles, especially on social media. However, when the dust settles, reality hits home and the cycle continues until one day they take their lives away.

Their brain is usually sensitive to negative thoughts and therefore no matter how bright the sun shines, the world that they live in is somewhat empty and dark. Such behaviour patterns cause their friends and families to stigmatise them, which only adds salt to injury.

A large percentage of parents does not really understand why their child would be depressed. They would excuse their obliviousness with phrases such us, "We have provided everything, what else do you want? Get yourself together. It is just life." It is crucial to know that monetary things are not as important compared to mental health.

Drugs and alcohol

Over the years, research has revealed that females are more affected by depression. I think this is ironical considering that women really talk about their issues compared to males. However, talking only relieves one off their stresses but does not help entirely. I tend to think that most Kenyans do not take mental health seriously because of the stigma that accompanies it. One would be perceived as weak hence many people hide their feelings by using drugs and alcohol as ways of numbing the pain and thoughts.

Well, this pattern would only lead to addiction and incessant cycles of turmoil. Individuals need to be each other’s keepers. Take note of any abnormal patterns of our loved ones, listen to them vent out their issues and help them get professional help. Parents ought to be keener on the behavioural patterns of their children.

Childhood trauma can greatly influence interaction, eating and sleeping patterns and can manifest into their adulthood if the minor fails to get the necessary help. A traumatised child is easy to identify and help overcome the trauma in a bid to curb any symptoms of depression at an early stage.

We need a stronger support system in Kenya if we are to deal with depression once and for all. Families, places of worship, schools and institutions of higher learning ought to put in place counselling facilities and courses on depression in order to create awareness nationally.

It is really a sad state of affairs to hear Kenyan citizens say that they literally cannot afford to be depressed in Kenya. Our government ought to inject more cash into mental health. We need more psychiatric departments and counselling centres that are affordable to everyone.

Depression is an illness and not a lifestyle trend as some would put it. Therefore, quit judging the affected but practice empathy; keeping in mind that it is okay not to be okay.


Ms Tanui is a journalist

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