THE steadily increasing count of the people we are losing to suicide should tell us about the extent of the depression epidemic we are facing in this country. Virtually every week, we are inundated with the grisly report of yet another soul who decided to end it all for not being able to cope going forward. Depression, the dreaded elephant in the room, has become our common enemy. We just do not know how many in our population are plagued by the debilitating mental issue even as we all pretend that all is well. And yet we have a society that is deeply suspicious of acknowledging mental health as an important aspect of life. We prefer to assume that everybody can cope with whatever is going on in their life to the extent that there is still life, and only get jolted out of such misconception when the reality of unending suicide hits us.
To be sure, mental health issues are facts of life and will continue to plague us for as long as we still live in a world that is full of pain, suffering and anxiety. Yet, it is all too easy to ignore the signs, to accept it as just another difficult 21st century problem, but it goes way beyond that. Mental illness is more than just a ‘thing’; it is serious and it must be talked about. Suicides are on the increase, especially among young adults. It seems that so many of them just cannot cope and surprisingly, the society is not showing understanding. Recently, a friend of mine mentioned that she lost a classmate to suicide but what struck me the most was not the loss but her response to the loss. She mentioned that she could not feel any hurt over him because he chose to end his own life. In her opinion, he deserved it. I was dumbfounded and I could not respond. I could not believe that despite all the mental health awareness programmes, someone still felt that way. More really needs to be done.
As my mind raced over exactly what to say in reply, I took my mind back to my own dreadful days and the moments when I thought I was better off dead. Would I have wanted anything less than compassion after the fact? Definitely not. I would have wanted someone to understand, to see beyond my action and feel the pain behind the decision. Depression is a monster that swallows you whole and leaves no room to breathe. Depression is not a decision we make, to be or not to be. In fact, the definition of a depressive disorder is not just a tendency to be sad. no, Rather, it is a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest. Depression cannot just be switched on and off like a switch rather it is a condition that too often cannot be controlled. Like someone rightly said, I wish I could stop being depressed.
If you spend just a day in others’ shoes, then maybe you would understand why they are the way they are. To be so vulnerable, so sensitive to every emotion, to feel so empty that life becomes a burden is an all time low that I do not wish on anyone. It takes just one second, sometimes just one touch, to change their minds and that second counts. By listening, by observing, by living, you give one person the strength to go on again. Never forget that. Depression requires compassion, tenderness and overflowing love to fight and live another day. Yet it is a battle that rarely ever ends, it is an unending struggle. If only my friend knew how hard it was for the victim, how difficult it must have felt and how terribly low he must have felt to not just think of taking his life but to actually go ahead and take his life! It must have been a lot.
Depression is serious, it is so much more than an emotion at which you can snap your fingers and it would disappear. Depression means smiling so hard but losing it in your mind; depression means waking up and not being able to get up sometimes; depression means fighting little battles and not knowing how to win; depression means feeling so unlovable that you could even consider taking your life. Depression means constantly being sad with no joy in sight. That is depression, and not some glamorized idea of feeling sad and out of place. I used to think that we were closer to being aware of mental health issues as a society, but maybe we are not. There really is so much more work to be done and it is time we learnt more and did more. At the personal level, I would think it is time to do more and it starts with helping my friend understand what depression is and exactly how low it can take you. Here is me doing what I can even as the society also has a responsibility to do more in confronting the continuing menace of depression and suicide.
- Wale-Olaitan writes in from Abuja.