A man decides to end his life by plunging into the lagoon on a glorious Sunday evening. He was a medical doctor. To the average observer, he appeared to be comfortable, or at least better off than most people. In different circumstances, but in clearly another act of suicide, a final year student of a University opts to take his own life by hanging himself in the hostel room he shared with two of his colleagues. They return after a night of reading to find him dangling from the ceiling. Both incidents have sent shock waves down the spine of many Nigerians. A country where the concept of committing suicide is still somewhat alien.
A few years ago, we used to joke that no Nigerian would ever offer to be or allow themselves be coaxed into suicide bombing. Nigerians love life too much, we maintained. Until Boko Haram struck using young men and women as suicide bombers. We live in a society where it’s uncommon to hear people say they are depressed. It’s hardly surprising because a significant number of people still treat the topic of depression as a joke. You tell someone you are unhappy, and their automatic response is a charge to you to snap out of it, after all you’re not the only one who has problems in this world.
Even when they are patient enough to hear you out, you may be surprised to see them laugh it off. They downplay the reality of your situation, and regale you with tales of many people who have “far bigger” challenges than you’ll probably ever have, and still manage to be upbeat about life. Oftentimes, this is done in good faith, however, it never really solves a person’s problem, neither does it make them feel better.
I find myself in a state of melancholy sometimes. Often even. I think about all the challenges I have at a particular time, and it all feels mightily overwhelming to me. I wonder how I’ll be able to cope with it all, and sometimes wish someone would just wave a magic wand and make all my problems go away (this is probably the part where you chuckle and shake your head about my silly wishful thoughts), but we all know it doesn’t work that way. It’s one of the reasons I am grateful for the gift of writing. Beyond being something I love to do, it also offers the perfect therapy for me when I am down. The ability to pen my joys and sorrows down is pure bliss.
Life is full of challenges. Life is sure to throw us a couple of curve balls at different stages of our existence; and while the way we react to these unpleasant situations go a long a way in determining how well we are able to quickly surmount them or otherwise, it’s also important to have a good support system at those times when we simply cannot thrive on our own strength anymore.We need external help at such times. Unfortunately, this is the part where many of us are found wanting.
The economic situation of the country has made us a little more self-centered, as we try to grapple with the harsh realities of the times. It’s difficult and unreasonable to be upset with anyone who seems to be distant at this time because everyone is battling their peculiar demon. But, maybe that’s why we have a sudden increase in the suicide rate. It shows that we are gradually losing our sense of community, and people are feeling more and more alone in spite of the number of people they have around them.
Apart from the fact that we do not have nearly enough psychiatric hospitals and centers where depressed people can easily walk into to seek help for their condition, many are still ignorant about mental illness. Many of us (educated or not) still view depression as madness. We stigmatize anyone who admits to being mentally ill or is known to have received treatment for it at one time or the other. We need to stop it. We need to re-orientate ourselves even if the relevant agencies are slacking in their duties. Those of us who can read and do a bit of research on mental health can educate those who can’t. But more importantly, we need to pay closer attention to those around us.
We need to be able to see the pain behind the smile. Facts have it that the people who smile the most, and try to make others happy are the ones who are most likely to suffer depression. Oftentimes, the constant smile and upbeat personality is only a decoy to deflect attention from what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s unfolding right before us. The seemingly happy celebrity couple who turnaround to tell us they were never really happy despite all the show they put on social media. The executive who’s at the top of his game at work, and is envied by all, but nurses a dark secret that eats him up everyday. We don’t see these things, we only see the periphery. We see the nice cars, beautiful wife and lovely pictures on Instagram. It’s why it is ridiculous to assume that a rich or comfortable person has no problems.
The general consensus is that people who are going through a tough time should muster courage to unburden themselves to someone close to them, but have we considered the sad reality that virtually nothing remains a secret these days. Friends back stab friends by spilling information they were trusted with on social media almost everyday. It’s becoming harder and harder to trust one’s neighbour. I can hardly blame the one who chooses to keep their issues to themselves. More often than not, they have valid reasons for this decision. However, it is an indictment on many of us. How many of us can be trusted with confidential information? Are we loyal enough keep a person’s secret even when they offend us?
I am humbled when someone counts me worthy enough to confide in regarding something that bothers them. I consider it a rare privilege to be able to share a person’s burden. What I have discovered is that just like me, many people don’t tell you their problems because they think you have a magic wand or potion that will make it disappear, they simply want someone who has a listening ear. Someone who won’t judge them. Someone who will assure them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. How difficult can that be?
We should make a conscious effort to be a little kinder, a little less judgemental. A good way to start would be to stop cyber bullying, and desist from using people’s problems to mock them. These things add up on the long run.
Depression is a serious matter and should be treated as such.
P.S: I think it’s important for everyone to be aware that there’s an initiative for suicide prevention. You never know who you can help by having their contact numbers.
Nigeria Suicide Prevention Initiative Hotlines: +234 806 210 6493, +234 809 210 6493