Depression: please don’t tell me to pull myself together!
Growing up as a youngster in Nigeria, depression and anxiety were taboo subjects and infrequently if ever talked about. Apart from the stigma that individuals with mental illnesses encounter, it also seemed that the general attitude was to pick yourself up and keep moving each time life got tough. Consequently, we have migrated to western countries carrying with us the same health believes and attitude towards mental health. However, the sad reality becomes that we are no longer able to manage the same level of resilience we had back home where we were surrounded by our families, faith and friends. We are now in a different land with much cultural differences from ours. Surely that would have a knock on effect on how we manage challenges of life. It would be great to have a smooth ride through life but in reality, stress of living could at some point rear its head and soon enough the impact would rattle our state of mind. Presumably, there are significant numbers of Africans living with untreated depression and anxiety here in United Kingdom. The question then becomes why are they not getting any help? Would you decline treatment if you were diagnosed with diabetes or cancer? I guess the answer would be “no”. Our mental health is as important as our physical health. If the mind is messed up, the whole body becomes affected over time.
Depression is a common mental illness which affects an individual emotionally and physically. To clarify, a feeling of misery, stress and sadness is absolutely normal and may sometimes fizzle out as things start to get better. However, when these feelings become frequent or linger on for weeks then you are most likely to be suffering from depression. Depression can affect both adults and children. Any situation in our lives could be a trigger factor; child-birth, bereavement, troubled relationships and stressful circumstances could trigger an onset of depression. Sometimes it could develop without any reason at all, presenting in a mild, moderate and severe form. In its extremity, depression could lead to suicide.
In my work life as a nurse, I have met individuals who had moderate to severe depression and anxiety symptoms but refused to seek medical help. Despite all the free mental health facilities provided by the national health, some Africans would rather suffer without help. Language and cultural barrier may well be the reason for this but I honestly think that it is due to culture of being resilient and getting on with life without complaints. Growing up in a big beautiful but tough continent like Africa would gear you up for life. Unless you have been incredibly lucky to come from a wealthy background, it would probably take a trailer load of psychotherapy sessions for one to achieve a healthier mind.
I once met a lovely African mum of five children who suffered years of domestic abuse. Her abusive husband finally walked away but years of loveless marriage and abuse took its effect on her. Her depression presented greatly in feeling of sadness, hopelessness and constant lethargy. She felt worthless and would cry herself to sleep every night. Her behaviour affected her children and her work life too. But she refused to seek medical help because her friends and family advised her against mental health stigma and antidepressants. After much persuasion and encouragement from me, she finally saw a doctor. She was diagnosed with depression and got both medical and holistic support. This woman is now very well and able to cope better with her situation. She told me that the antidepressants helped take ”the edge off things” whilst counselling sessions helped her to eliminate lots of negative issues off her mind. There are so many others out there whose lives and relationships are near wreck due to their depression.
Help for depression is easier than you think.
Treatment for depression is not only in form of medication but combining that with support network and healthy living is more effective. Talking to someone about how you feel is extremely valuable too. Most religious communities are very good at listening and offering a helping hand. Counselling sessions are great and I could only speak from experience.Exercises and healthy living work wonders in keeping depression and anxiety away.
Our attitude towards mental illness needs to change. There is no shame at all in admitting to depression, in fact recognising the alarm bells and actively seeking help is a great sign of courage and strength,after all it is always better to nip negative things in the bud than bury heads in the sand.