As we reach the end of May, which marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, we turn our focus to mental health in Africa and in particular, the subject of depression. While mental illnesses have been historically ignored and avoided in Africa due to the stigma attached to them, mental illnesses like depression need to be given more attention because unlike other non-mental illnesses, they could be hard to diagnose and their impact on the affected is far-reaching.
Africa, which is known mainly for its rich culture, has in recent times been plagued with untreated cases of depression. While depression is an extremely complex diseased no one knows exactly what causes it, it has a strong genetic link and is often brought on by life changes such as the loss of a loved one. In countries across Africa, people suffer depression due to poverty, infant mortality, poor healthcare and war, among other societal ills.
The widely held view on depression in Africa (mental health) is that the affected might have a spiritual affliction or might have abused drugs which can only be cured through spiritual or traditional medicinal interventions. The most visible cases of depressed or mentally ill patients in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon are seen on victims roaming the streets because their families have given up on them. The invisible ones are usually tied up and confined to a room.
But how can one prevent a situation where their mental health deteriorates because of a case of untreated depression? The most important thing is identifying the symptoms of depression and differentiating between depression and sadness.
Depression and sadness are linked but are not the same. Sadness is an emotion that everyone experiences, often after some negative life situation while depression is an overpowering mental health disorder that can drastically influence daily living. Sadness goes away quickly and you can go about your daily life in a matter of hours or days but depression lasts much longer. Depression rarely goes away on its own but it is a treatable sickness, so do not hesitate to seek help if you think you may be suffering from depression.
Learn more from our simple guide to surviving depression and reach out for professional help…
This guide might not completely turn your life into a fairytale. But it will provide you with just the right ideas on how to tackle depression until cheerful days come along - because those days will surely come back.
1. Don’t be afraid to get help
As with a lot of depression cases in Africa, victims are suppressed and told to be strong but treatment is what you need and recovery is possible. If you’re still feeling low after a couple of weeks then you need to speak with your doctor and get referral to a mental health specialist. Also, reach out to an understanding family member or friend as their support will go a long way in helping you recover sooner. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
2. Keep a list of things that make you smile and laugh
These might include pictures from fun vacations or hangouts, inspirational/spiritual quotes, phoning a friend indeed or a video of your little nieces/nephews/kids. In other words, create a rainy day fund for your mental health. Also, do things that help you relax like a walk on the beach, listening to uplifting music (avoid melancholic music), take a vacation or get off work stress if you can. Doing what you love is in itself a form of therapy.
All your threshold seems to be lower because depression saps energy and motivation. When you have depression, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do but research has proven that regular exercise releases feel good hormones that could improve your mood and general sense of well-being. Even walking gently for 20 minutes or more everyday helps. Also, spending time outside and any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood. Find the time to soak up some rays and get your daily dose of Vitamin D.
Helping a depressed loved one
If a loved one appears depressed, there are things you should say to be supportive and this involves offering encouragement and hope. Suffering from depression in Africa is hard enough because it could be tough to find someone who totally understands you, so remind the affected that they are not alone and they’re important to you while encouraging them to get help.
This is not a time to chastise the person by asking them “shouldn’t you be better by now or it’s all in your head.” Very often, this is a matter of talking to the person in a language that they will understand and respond to while in a depressed mind frame.
“We try to hide our feelings but we forget that our eyes speak.” Everyone is fighting something and we need to be kind because a lot of depressed people are disguised with big grins on their faces. People who are depressed cannot simply “snap out of it or pull themselves together” and then automatically get better. They need help and you should encourage and support them like you would any physically ill friend or family member.
Photo Credit | As Captioned, featured image: lightmagazineafrica.com
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