In his speech delivered during the 56th Madaraka day celebrations held at Narok stadium on Saturday, June 1, 2019, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta noted that the development of any nation is largely dependent on the wellness of its people. Given that depression continues to bear agony in the contemporary society, employers and learning institutions are tasked with a very demanding yet fulfilling role of investing more time and resources to promote the wellbeing of a human person. Alive to the deleterious effects of depression on the human body and mind, the President directed the Ministry of Health in consultation with the County Governments; Ministries of Education, Labor and Social Protection, Public service, Youth and Gender Affairs to formulate an appropriate policy response. This directive comes as an acknowledgment of the need to address the recent rise in reported cases of suicide which are mostly, if not all, a consequence of depression.
Depression is a mental condition that negatively affects how an individual feels, thinks and acts. It is usually characterized by frequent feelings of loneliness and tearfulness, thoughts of suicide, increased fatigue, changes in appetite and substance abuse among others. Whilst hopefully awaiting practical policy formulation and implementation from the said ministries, it is incumbent upon each one to openly engage in a discourse that seeks to remedy the undesirable consequences suffered by the victims of depression. The victims of depression should also be conscious of the prime role they play in the fight against depression. They should begin from the knowledge that the pursuit of a profound and satisfactory life lies in the justification that suffering in any way is part and parcel of life per se. From hence, there can be progress into the root causes of the problem in a bid to provide steps that work to promote the mental wellbeing of a depressed individual and consequently, the wellbeing of the society.
According to psychotherapists, psychological difficulties may be a result of the underlying destabilization of one’s health. This may be brought about by substance abuse and/or misuse, medical problems and genetic vulnerability. Other causes could be severe or long-term exposure to intense stress levels, lifestyle factors such as poor sleeping habits, poor diet and too much or too little work. Abusive relationships, childhood abuse, and stressful life events such as bereavement of close associates or loss of breadwinning jobs also contribute immensely towards depression. Personal problems such as low self-esteem, living beyond one’s means and the pressure that comes with depicting a perfect image on social media could also lead to social isolation which breeds an overwhelmingly sad and lonely life. As a result, some individually pull themselves into lonely cocoons, while others resort to excessive consumption of alcohol, poor work performance, recklessness and compulsive behavior.
To address the sad effects that are experienced by a victim of depression and the society that they live in; we begin by encouraging each and all to open whenever there is suspicion or struggle with conditions that may fall under the umbrella of depression. Support groups and empowerment forums are highly encouraged where people can share experiences that they are struggling with amongst themselves, or with professional experts. The ability to speak openly with someone willing and capable of helping, is an effective way of bringing a victim of depression to a more balanced place of psychological wellbeing, while still observing their rights to privacy, autonomy and self-determination.
The prevention strategy is also encouraged by making the right choices for the body and the mind. This would include eating healthy, mood-boosting foods and following routines. According to Jordan Peterson, lack of a routine deregulates the circadian rhythms which regulate moods. Having a schedule, therefore, stabilizes the nervous system hence a stable structure that acts as an antidote to depression.
It is worth noting that embracing physical exercise is also a very pertinent step towards lowering the stress levels that accumulate in everyday life. Exercise dissipates tension, and as Nelson Mandela captures in his exhilarating memoir ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, exercise is not only a key to physical health but to peace of mind. When the body is healthy, the soul dances! Leading a sedentary life without experiencing the serenity and the therapeutic consequences of physical exercise, increases the buildup of more tension and stress which contributes largely to depression.
Depression continues to cause an innumerable number of suicides and suffering behind the scenes. We cannot afford to take a back seat and witness fellow persons take their precious lives. In a tweet posted on the 5th of June this year by His Holiness Pope Francis, ‘we are called never to abandon those who are suffering, never giving up but be caring and loving to restore hope.’
While we strive to create awareness, everyone should be awake to the role they play in this crusade, including parents. Depression is likely to be prevented or remedied in a functional family set-up. From the very tender years of the lives of their children, parents should learn to encourage them that sharing life’s challenges is not a sign of weakness: engage them in conversations on how to cope with trying circumstances and cheer them to risk failure. The absence of these makes young adults to lead very lonely lives as they grow up in an attempt to escape hopelessness and the feeling of being inadequate. Employers and institutions too need to strive towards the elimination of a negative working environment. In as much as profit is key to any institution’s growth, there is a need to strike the right balance of what the organization needs in terms of growth, and the psychological thriving of the employees.
People living with depression barely, if ever, fulfill their lives given the secret suffering that most of them succumb to. Unfortunately, instead of uplifting people, the current societal view of mental illness depicts depression as an inability to grapple with life-related stress, or an attempt to seek attention. We must observe the people around us keenly. Consequently, the clarion question that befalls one as a friend, relative or interested observer is whether the other person could be suffering from depression. If the answer is to the affirmative, a responsibility is placed on everyone to reach out and help. It is extremely important to raise awareness, support victims of depression and encourage them to seek help rather than continue suffering alone in pain that could be alleviated.
This article was written by Nyaga Dominic.
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