The World Health Organisation defines depression as a common mental disorder characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration.
Mental health is a component of general well being that should not be ignored nor taken for granted.
Africans have a rich cultural heritage that has evolved over many centuries but so many of our beliefs has stood the test of time. Among black people any show of weakness is frowned upon. People are forced to live their lives by measuring up to standards set by society. Speaking about one’s challenges to a psychiatrist or psychologist is not common. People who even show signs and symptoms of depression are treated ‘spiritually’. Orthodox medications are seldom used.
This has grossly affected acceptance and reportage of the mental health conditions especially depression. As a consequence of this, a large number of patients suffering depression go undiagnosed and untreated. The result of not detecting cases include but is not limited to impaired ability, drug or alcohol addiction, self-injury, reckless behaviour, poor school performance in young persons, relationship problems, health concerns and suicide.
As black people we have not been spared our own fair share of the effects of untreated depression. Unfortunately we still remain largely remain in denial. There is a popular saying in Nigeria that ‘disease no dey kill African man’ meaning some Nigerians believe they are immune to ill health whether mental or otherwise. Most times, cases are attributed to witchcraft, ancestral spirits or just plain inability of a person to ‘handle’ or ‘get a grip’ of his/her life’s issues.
Denial, ignorance and the fear of stigma are major militating factors hindering people from seeking professional help. A family whose child was diagnosed with clinical depression, refused treatment claiming it was not an illness but a spiritual attack. Families have even been known to refuse marriages between their children and people from families with a history of depression even when there are no symptoms of clinical depression. This may sound strange to some people but these are true realities in our day to day lives.
Africans run a closely knitted family structure. As a result, families can be negatively affected when a member suffers from depression. Some may not want to have anything to do with the person affected. In some other instances they may not know how to deal with the person who has the illness. Other family members may do the opposite; they become over involved and try to do the best they can to heal the individual. Depression can be difficult for a family, especially when its members do not understand how they can support the affected person.
On this background we as a people must embrace available medical treatment options. Let us cease to suffer in silence while we watch people harm themselves and others in some cases. We should separate spirituality from medical science and stop stigmatising people who come forward for treatment. Depression is a real clinical condition and cannot be wished away.
Please share this with your family and friends. It can save a life!