Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Is your spouse, sibling, friend, neighbour having depression and you’re unaware?

“Dear world, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. I tried. No more pains. Wake no more. Nobody owns… I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call time eternity.”

This was the message that a lady who was identified as Muthoni posted on Facebook minutes before she died by suicide on May 12, 2022. Four days earlier, she had posted happy photos of herself with the quote, “The sun will rise tomorrow and we will try again 100 per cent.”

When a friend dies by suicide, those left behind are often confounded on why they weren’t able to spot the symptoms of depression. From her social media interactions, friends of Muthoni couldn’t have known that she had gotten depressed. She was very socially positive until the final hours of her life.

Since Muthoni’s heartbreaking incident, many other Kenyans have lost their lives by suicide, and left behind messages that suggest they were going through depression but no one around them suspected it.

Cases of depression in Kenya have been on the rise over the past ten years. As at 2017, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders Global Health Estimates’ showed that Kenya had the fourth highest number of depressed people in Africa.

By 2016, 1.9 million Kenyans suffered from problems that were related to depression. This was an 18 per cent increase in depression cases since 2005. With depression, suicide is often a high possibility.

According to the report ‘Suicidality and Depression Among Adult Patients’, one out of ten patients admitted in general medical facilities in Kenya due to depression will have suicidal symptoms.

The WHO cites the leading causes of depression as including poverty and unemployment, physical illness, life events such as death of a loved one, and drug abuse. More women are affected by depression than men.

According to psychologist Dr. Chris Hart, it is only an extremely few people who will commit suicide on impulse. “People who commit suicide usually have triggers that have been brewing for some time waiting to go off. They will seem happy and lead seemingly normal and happy lives. But inside, they will be struggling with stress and depression,” he says.

This makes it very difficult to spot a depressed friend on their way to committing suicide. “Someone looking to commit suicide is hard to identify. Everything about them will look right until the very last moments when they engage in illogical activities,” he says.

Dr. Hart says that a depressed person may not have the thought of committing suicide moments or hours before he or she does it, until something happens that sets the suicidal trigger off.

“They may have been stressed but not thinking about suicide. Then something happens that tips them over. It could be a remembrance of an event, a word from a friend, a thought or even sight,” he says.

The red flag

Ken Munyua, a psychologist based in Nairobi, says that you must never ignore any messages that involve suicide.

“At the very end, it is likely that there will be key hints that are often singled out once a suicide has taken place. These will include talks about death, anti-social tendencies, excessive maniac behaviours, and intentional bodily harm,” he says.

You should also look out for extreme changes in your friend. “Raise the red flag when your friend makes radical changes such as refusing to go to work, church, or attend family obligations,” adds Family therapist Grace Kariuki.

“Depressed expressions will also include the belief that everyone is against your friend, crying spells, self-hatred and condemnation.” This is supported by Munyua who says that your friend will think that their challenges and expectations are insurmountable.

“They will also feel that those around them are unappreciative, and that they should just leave them alone. This will be compounded when family and friends talk of them as being useless or saying that no one will notice, care, or even feel bad if they die,” he says.

One of the key mistakes you must not make is to tell your friend head on that they have depression. “Do not tell your friend that you know they have depression. Instead, identify your concern and behaviours that have led to your concerns,” says Grace.

If you feel that your friend could be suicidal, she says that you can gently ask them what they have been thinking about doing to solve or get rid of their problem.

“If you are close to them and find out that they are actively suicidal, do not leave them alone. Try and keep things that they could use to end their lives away from them,” she says.

What to do

Urge them towards a professional. Don’t give up on them even if they avoid you or push you away. Do not gossip about them. Respect that they are sick, and not weird. Munyua says that the long-term solution is psychiatric and psychological support.

“You will also do well to suggest that they change their environment in a bid to get rid of any memories that might be fuelling the depression,” he says. This will also require you to be ready to walk with them through their journey out of depression.

“The process of healing calls for regular and consistent support from the practitioners involved.” Also, the WHO recommends that psychosocial treatments are effective for mild depression.

Tina Kagia: My terrible marriage pushed me to attempt suicide, left me in ICU

“Antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for moderate to severe depression but are not the first line of treatment for cases of mild depression. They should not be used for treating depression in children,” adds the report.

Takeaway: When depression pushes your friend to suicide

Despite your efforts to get your friend out of the woods, they may still end their lives by suicide. In such an eventuality, Deborah Serani, a psychologist and the author of Living with Depression, says that you must hold very tightly to the fact that you aren’t responsible for their death in any way. This is what will allow you to grieve and heal properly and avoid going into depression yourself.

“Do not set a grieving timeline. You’ll face setbacks and take time before you find a place to rest your sadness and loss, and even more time before you can envision certain possibilities such as love and friendships again,” she says.

You may also seek professional help if it gets too tough, or join a support group. “Do not fail to reach out to your family and your other friends, or abandon your health,” she says.

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