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Depression is a common but treatable cause of suicide

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Dr Allwell Orji was a medical doctor and yet took his own life by jumping into the Lagos Lagoon, Olisa Nwakobi was a banker and yet shot himself dead in front of a priest over a bad bank loan. 

Suicide is sadly becoming a daily occurrence in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Nigerians are yet to accept the fact that someone can take his or her life because of unhappiness.

Depression is a common cause of suicide. It is inarguable to say that sadness, feeling down, having a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities are emotions that almost everyone experiences every once in a while. But, when these symptoms persist over a long period of time and affects one’s daily living in a great way, it can be called depression.

WHO (World Health Organization) states that depression is the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability. It estimates that no fewer than 350 million people are affected by depression globally. It also states that about 800,000 people die due to suicide every year of which 86 per cent are in low and middle income countries which includes Nigeria.

Suicide is a public health issue and is estimated to contribute more than two per cent to the global burden of disease by the year 2020, especially in the sub Saharan African countries where services are scarce. It is one of the three leading causes of death among those in the most economically productive age group which is 15 to 44 years.

Dr Yinka Atilola, a consultant psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) says that one of the key reasons people want to end their life is because they find it to have become burdensome, unpleasurable and very dull. He states that it all begins with having an idea to commit suicide, then other factors contribute in either carrying out that idea or abandoning it. He went ahead to say that the Lagos State Mental Health Survey (LSMHS) found out that 7.5 per cent of people in Lagos State are often bothered with the thought that they are better off hurting themselves or better still dead. This survey was carried out between August and September 2015 and involved 11, 246 adults from the five administrative divisions of Lagos State. The study also found out that the female gender and those who were not married were significantly associated with suicidal tendencies and also there is a higher suicidal tendency among people within the lower occupational group.

Dr Atilola stated that the tendency to commit suicide is higher in big cities given that the level of psychosocial problems that can make people depressed are prevalent there. It is quite important to note that depression is very different from the fluctuations in mood that we all experience as part of a normal and healthy life. Temporary emotional responses due to the challenges of everday life do not constitute depression. Also, the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close is not depression if it does not persist.

Depression is real and has claimed many lives. It is however devastating to know that many Nigerians confuse depression for spiritual problems. The glaring fact that someone can take his or her life because of unhappiness looks too strange to accept. Experts say that depression is likely to be due to a complex combination of factors that include genetics, environmental, psychological and social/psychosocial. Children whose parents suffered depression are more likely to suffer depression. However, some people are at a higher risk of depression due to life events like loss of a loved one, divorce and poverty as well as abuse of recreational drugs including alcohol.

The irony is that older adults who live in poor and violent urban neighbourhoods are at greater risk of depression. The Ibadan study carried out by Professor Oye Gureje, University of Ibadan, Nigeria and his colleagues indicated that urbanization increases the risk of major depression in elderly Nigerians.

Despite the thousands of Nigerians that commit suicide yearly due to depression, policies on mental challenges remain archaic. The Mental Health Act, enacted in the 1900s, was last reviewed in 1959 despite medical improvements made over the years.

Dr Atilola lamented, “I do not know when I can admit that there is a patient with severe suicidal ideas; there is no law that is in place to protect me and the person that has mental health challenges. It is not the kind of bill that catches the attention of an average lawmaker even though it will also ensure the integration of mental health care into primary health care to improve access to care.” He added that beyond building middle level capacity to care for mental health problems, mental health needs to be integrated into the curriculum for training medical doctors. Every medical doctor should have a full understanding of what mental health is. To Dr Atilola tackling mental health problems as depression alongside other non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension is the key to reducing deaths and ill health from these diseases. He noted that a person that is diabetic and depressed is more likely to neglect his diabetes care and this would eventually lead to complications of diabetes or even death. “So we must also put money on what will make people to have the presence of mind to want to do what is needed to be done to keep them physically well.” He said.

Dr Atilola further noted that depression is treatable and its three components of management are support, psychotherapy and drug treatment. Emergency treatment should be sought for when a person has thoughts of hurting his/herself, hears voices or sees things that are not there or feels as if he or she would better off dead and then makes plans to commit suicide.

from HealthNewsNG

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