A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a friend on depression. With what I have been seeing and hearing… I think it is time to resurrect the article.

Everyone hurts sometime (Who sang that? ) is true.. but do you hurt all the time? Sometimes we just want to be left alone. Not a problem…. unless we feel this way, most of the day, almost every day of the week. If this is the case, it is a totally different ball game. We are now in the playing field of Depression.

There are many faces to depression. It hides under many masks. It affects BOTH males and females of ALL age groups (Yes, even children). Divorced or widowed men are noted to have the highest risk for suicide in developed nations. So what has this got to do with us Nigerians? We are Happy People!

Well, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the leading cause of disability. Worldwide.

Depression as of 2012 was projected to be the 2nd leading cause of years of life lost due to illness (DALYs) in the year 2020. WHO goes on to say that depression as of 2012 was the 2nd leading cause of DALYs within the age group of 15-44 in BOTH sexes. Sorry guys, it is NOT just a female thing.

That information is enough to just turn the page and go on to the next article. But wait…. THIS is something important. IT is the great big giraffe in the room that no one is talking about. IT is the Emperor without clothes marching down the street and all hailing.

Now that you are still reading this article, let’s look at it from the Nigerian angle.

“Ajebota”, “Where is your faith in God?”, “IT is well”, “Are you not a Nigerian?”, “Be strong”, “God is in control” and the list goes on. These and many more are the initial responses that depressed people get. They are misunderstood, ostracized, stigmatized. No help is offered. No help is sought.

What do we do? Recognize the possibility of its existence.

In children and teens, depression is said to go hand in hand with behavioural changes/problems. Avoiding social interactions, showing signs of sadness, irritability, and /or increased worry are some ways we can deduce the possibility of depression.

In adults and also adolescents, changes in sleep and/or thought processes prevail. Decrease in sex drive (libido), increased boredom, dissatisfaction with life, feelings of worthlessness and/ or unexplained physical aches and pains are signs that an underlying depressive disorder may exist. The elderly often are misdiagnosed and therefore not treated. Those that live alone are at increased risk for depression.

By now, you have either had enough, want to turn the page or have recognized some people that you know maybe, juuust maybe have depression. If that is the case, then I have accomplished my first objective.

Second objective, what next?

Recognizing the signs is the starting point. Acknowledging the possibility follows closely behind. Now, realize that there are a number of factors that are involved. Know that the causes of depression vary and can be due to medications, thyroid disease, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal changes, menstrual periods, genetics (yes you can blame it on the genes), life (fuel scarcity, traffic!), death or even abuse of ANY kind. Oh and the weather…. yes, the weather.

If symptoms are affecting the quality of ones life, SEEK HELP. It is important to find out the root cause, as the treatment will depend on it. For example, if it is due to a side effect of a certain medication, stopping the drug may improve symptoms. Discuss with your doctor about how you are feeling and what your options may be.

Once the diagnosis is made, controlling stress, managing stressors, boosting self-esteem and surrounding ones self with loving support are the bedrock of successful treatment. Exercise often. Talk to people you trust. Let someone know how you feel. If you can’t speak to someone, there are websites available that answer questions and can give insight to what you or someone else may be going through.

Depression is real and dangerous. Don’t ignore it.

Dr. Ifeoma Okogwu, MD, DTMH

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