Ola and Steven met while in the university and became close friends after a second meeting. They seemed to have the same interests, which was the reason they became friends in the first place. The two remained close friends after university and even several years later.
Ola and Steven are now both 35 years old and happy with their partners. Both work for separate companies and live in different parts of Lagos, but they always make time to see and talk. After a while, Steven began to feel down and sad a lot; he was no longer interested in things that made him happy, and he was no longer encouraged or motivated to do anything. He solely felt frustrated and tired of how the economy was treating his finances. When he began to feel this way, he reached out to his friend Ola and expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, and Ola told Steven that it appeared the economy was dealing with everyone and everything, so he was not alone.
A few months later, Steven was still not feeling well; his overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness had not improved, and his frustration level had increased over time. Because he was exhausted, he had lost his appetite and was no longer interested in seeing his friends. Steven felt like a burden to his wife and children and was racked by guilt that he was not able to give her the life he had envisioned and promised her and their future children. She tried hard to cheer him up but he only felt worse that she was such a good person that she deserved better than him. He started entertaining thoughts of killing himself so they could move on and be happier without him. He felt desperately lonely and could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. Just as he was planning how to end it all, his friend Ola called, and he answered the phone. After telling Ola how he felt and how tired he was, his friend’s response remained the same, as Ola responded, “everyone is going through something crazy, you need to learn how to just stand like a man and ignore the negative things.” “You are even lucky that you have a home, a good job, a wife that is devoted and lovely children. Granted that finances are not great, but you are better than 90% of Nigerians right now”, he concluded. The response hit Steven like a bullet to the soul; he felt like he was indeed a failure for not being able to handle the situation. So, he became convinced that his decision to end his life was justified. A few days later, Ola received a phone call from a mutual friend informing him that his friend had died by suicide. It was a shock to Ola, and he did not understand what contributed to his friend’s decision to end his own life via suicide.
Research indicates that 50 – 80% of adults that die by suicide or attempt suicide have background issues of depression. Yet there is a critical window of opportunity if the depression is identified and treated early before they develop suicidal thoughts or begin to contemplate acting upon such thoughts. Depression is a mood disorder and is one of the commonest mental disorders globally. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young persons globally.
It is therefore important that we learn the symptoms of depression and how to support persons who may be depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Our words and responses could either serve as a catalyst to make matters better and get them the necessary intervention or they could make matters worse. That is why it is important to be nice and supportive to everyone since we are not sure who suffers from depression in our everyday dealings. There are some unhelpful things you should never say to a depressed individual:
Minimize their feelings or dismiss their pain: This was what Ola did to his friend Steven in the story previously read. Words like “you are not the only one having problems” is cold consolation.
Do not make it sound so simple: responses like “just snap out of it”, or “stop being sad”, are not exactly helpful.
Don’t sound disbelieving: “you smile all the time, and you have good things in your life so how can you be depressed?”
Do not blame them: “If only you had more faith or were closer to God”, “But why didn’t you do xyz?”. etc
What everyone who is feeling low and overwhelmed needs, is a listening ear, empathetic support, encouragement to seek professional treatment if they are not feeling better, and reassurance that you care for them. Will you be in their corner or will you compound their misery?