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.

Understanding depression.

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.

Take control today!

Jane xx
photo credit: .Andi. via photopin cc

20 Replies to “Depression: please don’t tell me to pull myself together!”

  1. Excellent blog piece.
    It is a very similar attitude within the Asian community.
    In some families their attitude towards mental illness, whether is be bi-polar, depression, etc is changing and are seeking help. Though for others they still believe that someone has put a ‘spell’ on the person with illness and by going to see a religious person to be ‘cleansed’ and avoiding certain foods such as meat will ‘cure’ the person.
    Education is the key, letting people know that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, focusing on the strength and courage it takes to get the appropriate help to live a much happier life.


  2. Jane..a client of mine had a son who had suffered a lifetime of depression and seemed constantly to flow in and out of the state. Two years ago the son finally took the ultimate step and succeeded in ending the suffering which shocked everyone who knew him. It was all the more tragic because, for the first time perhaps ever, his life seemed to be on a path that really offered happiness. He was successful at University and had a large group of friends. The news of his death devastated his family but his father took it particularly badly. Over the next year they talked about the help they’d received from The Charles Waller Foundation and I saw real positive changes in the father’s outlook.
    I hope you don’t mind my mentioning the group?
    For myself depression is something that seems to drift over me like a cloud, usually around Christmas/New Year when I come to realise that another year has passed without my goal appearing any nearer.But, like a cloud it does pass and leaves no serious consequences.
    My best wishes for the future.


    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so sad to hear of loss of young life especially when they lose the will to live as a result of depression. I am so glad there are organizations out there effectively supporting people. As a nurse, I am particularly empathetic towards people with depression because I have been there myself. I hope you continue to find the strength to tackle your depression which seems seasonal and I wish you all the best too:-)


  3. This is informative. I had not known the reasons many would not seek help for depression. I have met people who were too embarrassed or couldn’t afford it or whose family was against it, but I did not know it was a cultural thing as well. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Hi mkslagel,thank you so much for reading my post. Yes there are cultural factors against our health behaviour but I hope that people would open their eyes and think out of the box.


  4. Jane, what a great article on depression and cultural taboos against getting help. The African and Asian community are not the only ones who will not get help. Many Caucasians, especially older ones have been taught, especially from the south that you just don’t give in to depression. Some churches even teach that it is not Christian to be depressed. A lot of people of all races need to be educated about this condition. I know some of what I speak as I have suffered from depression all my life, oof and on, like a cloud hovering over me, waiting to enguld me, and my husband suffered from it before he died last year. I have started a blog describing my bereavement. Perhaps you would like to stop by and read it.


    1. Thank you so much for your comment Clarabetty. It’s always great to see people share their experience with others. I can’t wait to read some of your post on your blog. I hope you get better with your depression. I suffered mildly from depression too and I got every help available to me. I now support my mind with regular exercises and healthy living. See you again soon:-)


  5. Jane, thank you for sharing the impact of depression and anxiety on non-American populations. Depression/anxiety is a global problem, and as a clinical psychologist who has treated people with both, and I have personally experienced both since the age of 15, they are not disorders to be taken lightly. The worst result is suicide as mentioned in an earlier comment. While medication and psychotherapy can help, people who do not have access to either can use “mindfulness” (i.e., meditation, self-hypnosis, etc.) to help themselves. The basis of both depression and anxiety is irrational thinking which leads to depression and/or anxiety. Using a technique that one can “self-administer” may be the only option available to some people. Of course, evaluation by a behavioral health specialist is optimal that are fairly simple things a person can do like mindfulness. There are free audio CDs that can be downloaded from the internet. I would like to thank those who have made such downloads available free.


    1. Thanks a lot Greg for sharing this. My depression usually starts when I am under enormous stress . I have not suffered in few years now but I like to support others who are going through the same thing.


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