Owing to the hard times witnessed in the past few years, many Nigerians have come down with different types of mental disorder.  It is no surprise that cases of suicide are rising in the country. Yet, our people do not even understand that many who commit suicide are just patients that deserve treatment or care. 

Depression is a medical condition marked by loss of interest or pleasure, inability to sleep, weight loss, constant fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, back pain, restlessness, feeling of guilt, and thoughts of suicide. One interesting fact is that this sickness affects every class of people: rich and poor, old and young, employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated, married and unmarried, men and women.

The World Health Organization states that depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, as the number of people suffering from depression and or anxiety disorders have increased by almost 50% since 1990.

In commemoration of the World Mental Health Day 2018, recently, the Nigeria National Depression report stated that at least 60 million Nigerians are at risk of suffering from depression. It further found:  “31.6% of polled respondents reported experiencing depressive symptoms. Putting this in perspective, 3 out of every 10 Nigerians are at risk of depression; 27.8% of respondents reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety. While both physical and mental health is important for a flourishing life, mental illness explains more of the misery in the society more than physical illness, poverty or unemployment.”

A depression patient could jump into a well or river and drown. She could deliberately drink a poisonous substance. He could tie a rope to a tree and hang. She could fall from a tree or high-rise building. He could run into a vehicle on an expressway. He could become addicted to drugs in a vain effort to “cure” his worries. Suicide bombers used by terrorists could be patients with depression too. When a man decides to give up his life for a cause, he means business.

Anyone who shows signs of depression should be watched closely. One pervasive form is the one that usually afflicts women during pregnancy (prenatal depression) or after they have given birth (postnatal/postpartum depression). And medical authorities say it afflicts two out of every 10 women of childbearing age. Left unprotected, she could easily commit suicide.

Of the 60 million Nigerians estimated to be depressed, perhaps half a million are already dead. Only high-profile cases are reported. Many communities choose to live in denial: they attribute deaths by suicide to supernatural forces or “the enemy” at work. Some heap blames on the victims. At times, even the relations of a suicide victim refuse to disclose the actual cause of death, for fear of being stigmatised.

Things are getting unbearably tough in the country, and mental diseases like depression, which are rarely treated here, are taking their toll on Nigerians. It is only when a mental case becomes irreversible that family members chain the victim and seek psychiatric doctors.

We are great pretenders, however. Many Nigerians live false lives – they buy big cars and houses with money borrowed from banks. Until recently, smiling faces were common wherever you went, despite the misery in the land.

We do not approve of suicide or thoughts of suicide in any way. Only a coward would take their own life. Many people who faced extreme poverty a decade ago are millionaires today, and it is not because they took to armed robbery, cybercrime or other crimes.

The Nigeria National Depression report advises: “Nigeria needs to be proactive in taking mental and emotional health seriously by reviewing the national mental health policy and creating a viable legislative framework to meet global standards, investing in public education to influence the culture to one that promotes resilience and creates safe spaces for emotional and mental healing, and investing in research, innovation and development.”

Those who control the resources of the nation should give their compatriots hope, or else they will continue to live in fear with suicidal neighbours. Acts of injustice and economic recessions fuel suicidal tendencies. Over 130million Nigerians live below the poverty line today; they have become nervous wrecks. Frustration has kept many in beer parlous where they take illicit gin or sniff Indian hemp.

“Only when people are sustainably happy can they truly flourish, innovate, and make the world a better place,” said Damola Morenikeji, one of the authors of the Depression report.  “The collective roles of governments, businesses, and other stakeholders have to transcend from creating an environment purely for wealth creation to creating environments that facilitate the genuine well-being and flourishing of people.

“Human misery is real; the goal of every intervention should be to reduce misery while increasing the happiness of people. Investing in citizens’ happiness and well-being should not be a luxury, but a necessity.”

Nigeria has no job for psychologists yet. Thankfully, religious houses have taken over their job. Let people understand, however, that mental illness is of various types.  It is not only the people admitted in psychiatric hospitals or who roam the streets and eat from dustbins that are “mad”. It takes a mental illness for one to consider taking their own life.

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