The world is marking World Health Day. The theme for the celebrations this year is Depression.
The choice of theme and focus on depression is hugely appropriate and relevant. This is because depression, not only affects people of all ages, from all walks of life and all countries, but that it also carries a high risk of suicide. It is worthy of note that two of every three people who commit suicide are depressed at the time they take their life.
Indeed, over 90 percent of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder.
It must be emphasized that even though most people who are depressed do not kill themselves, untreated depression can increase the risk of possible suicide. It is common for depressed individuals to have thoughts about suicide whether or not they intend to act on these thoughts. Nevertheless, depression remains one of the strongest risk factors in attempted suicide in both youth and adults.
There is no gainsaying that everyone feels down at times: The breakup of a relationship; a loss of a game by a cherished football team; loss of an election or a bad grade in school can lead to low mood and possible depression.
It has been established that in severe cases depression can be life-threatening with suicide as a possible outcome.
On this special occasion of World Health Day, mhLAP Stakeholder Council wishes to sadly make reference to the recent spate of suicides across the country, some of which could have been triggered by a longer and deeper feeling of despondency on the part of those who took their life.
For some people, suicide will follow a period of depression, while for others, it is likely to be an impulsive act, perhaps triggered by a traumatic experience, for example the death of a loved one or by a relatively insignificant event which may be seen as the “final straw”.
Some of the feelings/experiences that may contribute to someone feeling suicidal include: loneliness; feeling of hopelessness and helplessness/feeling of worthlessness, of being a ‘waste of space’; depression in those who are clinically depressed.
Similarly, depressed individuals may experience: loss of pleasure in virtually all activities; feeling of fatigue or lack of energy; frequent tearfulness; change in sleep pattern; feelings of worthlessness and self-blame; exaggerated feelings of guilt; hopelessness about the future, and thoughts of suicide.
Besides, as may be relevant in the case of students, plans falling through e.g. not settling in well in the university community, failing an examination; the break-up in an important relationship and an inappropriately high levels of stress of the kind experienced by those with exceptionally or unrealistically high personal or academic expectations; anger; alcohol; drugs and a history of mental or physical illness.
The death of two university students and others who allegedly committed suicide in the past months was rumoured to be caused by one or another of the above factors.
mhLAP Stakeholder Council is critically concerned because suicide cases appear to be on the ascendancy and the trend is obviously worrying.
Our organization is of the firm view that whilst, as a country we may not be able to eliminate completely the risk of depression and suicide, we should be able to take necessary actions to reduce the risk. Government, Civil Society Organizations, the Media and Individuals all have critical roles to play through enacting appropriate policies, and creating and sustaining the necessary awareness around the issues of depression and suicide.
At the home and community levels, family and friends may provide all the support that is critically needed in mild cases of depression. Having someone who is willing to listen and ask concerned questions can make all the difference.
However, when depression is more severe, even the most caring and involved friends or family members may not be enough. In such cases it is important to encourage suicidal and depressed person to seek professional help.