It is the first week of June, and a rather disheartening news of Kate Spade’s death circulates. The cause was an apparent suicide. Then, just a few days later, while the world was yet wondering why Kate did that, there was Anthony Bourdain; an immense lover of food who told great stories with simple questions. He hung himself in his hotel room in France.
When it comes to mental health, it would seem I am blowing my own trumpet if I am asked how strong of an advocate I am, but to put it mildly, I stand with anyone who goes through any form of mental illness. The WHO currently estimates a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. By 2020, it is predicted the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds.
The facts and statistics are not what I want to talk about, but the feeling we have about mental health; how we approach it or choose not to approach it, and the non-conversations we have about it. I’d like to believe the difference lies in how we talk about it. We should have these conversations, carefully, be willing to listen, and actually listen to understand. The thing with numbers, like the WHO statistics, is that they can change.
There are people who have everything they need but inside them have no happiness. This validates the saying that mental illness shows no preferences when it comes to possessing a person.
Before realizing I suffered from depression and anxiety, I was in a place where I was misunderstood and laughed at for trying to get people around me to understand my plight mentally. Up till now, I get flashbacks and it makes me withdraw into my shell.
In the Nigerian community, understanding mental health and the reason some people go to see psychiatrists and psychologists is a struggle. Our backs are so thick that we pride ourselves to be natural copers. There is no gainsaying how badly this idea affects us. We hear things like “get over it,” “e go better,” “it’s un African.” People attribute the general Nigerian hardship to the reason why some are depressed; like it’s not enough. On the other hand, I am utterly glad that we as a people are slowly beginning to appreciate and understand mental illness, it’s causes and struggles.
I remember being depressed without even knowing that I was depressed. I never thought that I could be depressed. I just always crawled into a dark place inside of me. I didn’t know the sadness I felt was a symptom of depression. I just felt sadness without understanding why I was sad. I didn’t know I had some chemical imbalances that triggered the sadness. Why would I be depressed? I had a good childhood. Everything was not perfect, but I had parents who loved me, I went to good schools and my parents worked hard to provide my siblings and I with the basics we needed.
After I saw a therapist, I immediately understood why I was sometimes sad and why I was sometimes anxious and I was given some medication to help my sadness. Even at that, it wasn’t every time I felt free discussing my struggle with depression and being suicidal. Generally, you’re sometimes made fun of with comments like “Why you no die? (Why didn’t you die?). While some think this is some type of psychological reinforcement to help one understand the struggles in life, it is very discouraging.
I want a world and society where people aren’t called selfish for having suicidal thoughts but understood and cared for in order to prevent tragedy. I want a world where people understand that mental disorder is a disease that can be cured. I want people to understand that we know how difficult it can be sometimes being close to people with mental disorders and that continuously pointing it out to us makes us lose trust and prevents us from ever trusting anyone to speak to about our mental health. As one who has also had some issues with PTSD, I totally understand that it’s not easy to deal, but I do not want to carry the guilt of anyone pointing out that I’m always depressed. The moment you complain, I stop talking to you about my mental health or how I feel. You begin to get the “fake happy.”
I want to be free to discuss how I feel without being berated.