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I think we don’t talk about depression as often as we should, and with the rising rates of suicide, and people among us who are suffering from depression, it is time we talked about it openly and acknowledge that any of us can become depressed. Most importantly, we can encourage people to seek help when they express some symptoms of depression.
Different ways that people deal with depression
People handle depression or depressing thoughts in different ways. Some find a right way to channel their emotions such as through creativity. This helps for some and in fact, creative people create their best work when they are going through a low moment, some of the best albums from some great artists are as a result of some form of breakup. Though this is helpful sometimes, eventually even their creative ventures may become unsatisfactory and they look for different outlets, some of which are not very productive. However, not all people know the right way to channel their emotions, and as a result this leads to deeper levels of depression.
According to Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence, we all have low moments at one point or another. Some sink deep, others not so much. However, what Goleman calls mood lifters is one way which some people use to pull themselves from that low point. Some engage in some form of physical activity, others visit families and friends, others channel it to creativity and others allow themselves to feel the feeling, until they emerge out of it feeling better. The kind of mood lifter one chooses can shift depressive thoughts into various directions. For example, using alcohol or drugs to lift low moods leads to more depressive thoughts while choosing to participate in a productive activity such as exercise or helping others can lead to positivity.
All these are different ways of managing emotions. But not everyone is very good at managing their emotions. Some will come out of the dark place in a short time, others in a long time, and others don’t, and sadly, these are the kind of people that sometimes commit suicide, or become depressed for a very long time.
No, not all depressed people are sad
One common misconception is that depressed people are sad people. Depression is really not sadness. Yes, there are people who are depressed and carry this cloud of sadness around them all the time, others not. Some look very happy and cheerful, but deep down they feel this hole in their hearts (or a pit in their belly) that nothing can fill. They try all kinds of mood lifters but they really can’t get out of it.
Some months back, someone I knew through work took his own life. Every one of us was surprised, because he was the last person one could have thought was depressed. He was such a happy and jovial person, talented, creative and looked as if he had it all. Such people make us realise that a person you are laughing with could be depressed and you might not know.
No, they cannot ‘snap’ out of it
I don’t like that word, ‘snap’; or the phrase ‘snap out of it’ since it is impractical when being used to refer to human emotions. Most people who don’t understand depression think it is something one can ‘snap’ out of. They think it is a phase one can easily get through and therefore offer to buy the suffering person a beer or something, or come up with ways to cheer this person up. While this works temporarily, and sometimes, continuous cheering up over a long period can help someone from sinking even further into depression. However, laughing with this person for an afternoon does not help them snap out of it. In fact, they are likely to sink even further into depression after this cheering up episode.
We cannot look at a person and decide that we know what is making them depressed and that we can easily offer a solution to get them out of depression, or they can snap out of it. Depression is not like a headache, you cannot take some painkillers and take a nap, expecting that it will be gone when you wake up. You cannot advice a person to get out and interact with some people thinking that this will make them feel better (this may work for some people, such as extroverts, who thrive in the presence of people, and prefer not to be alone sometimes. For introverts on the other hand, it can sink them further into depression since they feel they require more efforts to interact, and this effort, and pretending to appreciate the conditions can strain them even further). Such a suggestion can be used as a trial remedy.
As an introvert, I can relate. Being told to ‘go out there and interact with others’ is pure torture. Introverts are happiest being by themselves, doing things that they derive pleasure in, and most (all) of these things are done alone. Such as reading, writing, cooking, creating, working out (yes, we choose to work out from home so we don’t have to interact with others in the gym), binge-watching something or just building castles in our heads. They may need a different approach towards cheering up in an environment that they are comfortable in.
Feed depression with positivity
One effective way to help someone with depression is to feed them with positivity over a very long time to pull out of that dark place. Other times, depression needs a whole change of mindset so that someone can have a whole different worldview from what it has been for a long time.
I have a friend who was depressed for close to a year. She suffered from the kind of depression where she was sad all the time, and saw herself as a victim of circumstances. I encouraged this person to go for therapy and took a lot of time to talk to her. It took months to change her perspective from one of a victim of circumstances to a much positive view. Therapy and a lot of positive talk helped her see that she is not the cause of other people’s ill treatment towards her. If people chose to ignore her, abandon her, criticize her, it was because of these people and their perspectives in life, and that she did not trigger these actions. In different words, we focused on trying to make her not take everything personally and helped boost her confidence and esteem.
However, not all kinds of depression are like this. Some people are depressed because they feel that they are shortchanging themselves in life, that they should be doing with their lives. Others are depressed because they have high expectations of self or others, and they have fallen below these expectations. Other are depressed because they are unable to handle the emotion of being overwhelmed, or frustrated. Others are depressed because they feel their life has stagnated, and all their efforts to get out of this have been futile. The list is endless.
Depression in the African society
In the African society, depression is not well understood. In-fact, depressed people are told to ‘be a man’ and snap out of it, they are told ‘we have bigger issues’ beside their ‘small problems’. Depression is even more prevalent in men. This is because African men will hardly open up about their thoughts and frustrations especially if it makes them look weak. Further, most men will not agree to seek professional help. Ask an African man to go for a therapy session and they’ll give you a look to suggest there is something terribly wrong with you.
A research on how African people handle depression showed that most didn’t believe depression can happen to them. Others believed that by praying, they can emerge winners from their circumstances. While religion plays a vital role as a source of hope and providing some social support, over-dependence on religion is an illusion and can lead to harmful fanaticism. Religion also has the benefits that it reduces reliance on drugs and alcohol as a way of dealing with depression while on the other hand, it may induce guilt and dependency which can result to suicide.
Africans also fail to seek help regarding mental health due to stigma associated with mental health. They are not very open to acknowledging psychological problems. Culture faces a vital role in influencing beliefs, values, communication styles, coping behaviors and problem solving patterns. The way people perceive mental illness is highly influenced by their culture ad their environment. If you think about it, most African people do not open up if they have a family member with special needs. That is the same kind of holding back they have when one of them is suffering from mental health. Because depression is not visible to the eye, they assume it is just a small problem that can be prayed away, solved with some cheering up, getting a job and getting yourself together and all those positive prompts.
The younger generation of Africans is accepting that depression is real, but still facing high prejudice. A young man posted on the internet recently about his mental health problems, and the comments revolved around ‘don’t bother us with your small issues, we have bigger problems’ and such related comments that failed to acknowledge the fact that this man was suffering and had taken a huge step to talk about it. This shows how stigma is still one of the main reasons why people don’t come out and talk about depression.
Please seek help, and encourage others to do so
All the same, initiatives such as Mimi si Chizi, Befrienders Kenya, among others are encouraging others to speak out if suffering from depression, showing that anyone can become depresses and this doesn’t mean that they are crazy. Just like you take care of your physical health, it is equally important to take care of your mental health. Please don’t view seeing a therapist as a thing for ‘other people’, getting a tetanus injection is not for ‘other people, right? Or that malaria test? Or that HIV test? Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; instead, it signifies strength.
I am not an expert in mental health, but I have interacted with people with depression at different levels. I have seen some seek help and largely benefit from it. I therefore encourage anyone who is reading this, and is undergoing some form of depression, please seek help. Many still think seeing a therapist is for people with bigger problems and keep saying ‘my problems have not got to that level’. No problem is too small, and none is too big either, that it cannot be solved. I can recommend some therapists who can help. I also encourage that we talk to the people around us and if we detect something is not right, be there for them and encourage them to seek help. A little effort goes a long way, and it can help you save a life.
Campbell, R. D., & Long, L. A. (2014). Culture as a social determinant of mental and behavioural health: A look at culturally shaped beliefs and their impact on help-seeking behaviours and service use patterns of Black Americans with depression. Best Practices in Mental Health, 10(2).
Dein, S. (2013). Religion and mental health: Current findings. Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Parent, M. C., Hammer, J. H., Bradstreet, T. C., Schwartz, E. N., & Jobe, T. (2016). Men’s mental health help-seeking behaviours: An intersectional analysis. American Journal of Men’s Health, 1-10.