It is ok not to be ok: Understanding depression and suicide
On 3rd March 2022, Meru campus received in pomp and dance Dr. Jane Nyutu, MKU Co-Founder and Member of Board of Director who was accompanied by the university counselor Mrs. Edith Ndwiga and Mrs Christine Njuguna a lecturer at Mount Kenya University. Dr. Jane Nyutu is the Director Mind and Beyond Counseling Centre and a practicing psychologist, she took up the challenge on public talk dubbed, Depression and Suicide Prevention among Young People and Adults.
In the keynote address, Dr. Nyutu was keen to observe that people world-over are experiencing complicated set of emotions due to the uncertainties and ambiguity the world and its people are facing today. She gave an assurance that we are not alone and one of the best ways of dealing with depression is to acknowledge your feelings of grief, sadness, anger, anxiety or any other depressive feeling. She called upon all attendees to recognize their feelings and confess that they are ok, normal, and part of the collective human experience.
The psychologist observed that depression is a modern plaque in the context of mental health. She described it to be on the rise and reckoned it to be the second cause of illness and disability according to findings of empirical research on mental health conducted in 2020.
How can you tell if you are a culprit of depression? Dr. Nyutu informed the congregants that knowing the signs of a major depressive episode may be helpful. She encouraged the attendees that if they notice the signs in themselves to pursue a diagnosis or reach out for the help of a health practitioner/psychiatrist, a counselor/ therapist. Here are some symptoms of depression that she discussed:
- Sadness, hopelessness, low mood
- Wanting to eat substantially more or substantially less
- Not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time
- Not enjoying activities you previously did
- Restlessness or fatigue
- Thoughts of death or suicide*
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling worthless
- Feeling numb
- Excessive crying
- Agitation or increased irritability (DMS-5)
To sum up the definition of depression Dr. Nyutu, stated that, it is a mental health condition that interferes with ability to work, study, eat, sleep and enjoy life. She encouraged the listeners If the symptoms listed above are chronic or are ongoing and last for more than a few weeks to awaken to the fact that, they could be living with a diagnosable mental health condition or disorder and seeking out help is crucial.
Thus there is need for all of us from time to time, to take some time, pause and consciously think about our feelings in a non-judgmental manner without feelings of guilt or shame. The first and most central thing is to bring self-awareness to your feelings and know that they are valid. The Psychologist advised that awareness and acceptance of our feelings are the first steps toward taking action to impact our situation. The second step is to seek help or speak to a trusted person or even write down your feelings in a journal and keep track to the theme of your feelings and behavior/s. Do not be ashamed to express how you feel or write statements like, “I am lonely… I feel angry, I have suffered a lot, ..I am frustrated, I have missed out on many milestones in the last two years,.. I am scared, I am sad, my marriage has frustrated me… I am tired of staying away from my family and friends, the future seems so uncertain”.
Validating your feelings as well as voicing out our needs is a form of ventilation and safety valve for our pent up emotions. So don’t fear or be ashamed of releasing your emotions or discussing them. Simply put it is okay not to be okay and seeking help is a is a courageous step (Mariska Hargity).
She created awareness on various types of depression such as major depression, Bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, psychotic depression, peripartum and postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric situation. She was also keen to clarify on the risk factors associated with depression. They include loneliness and isolation, lack of social support, stressful experiences, family history of depression, alcohol and substance abuse, chronic illness and financial strain.
The healthiest part of the talk was on the ways of undoing depression. The doctor suggested that one needs to get into a routine by setting a daily schedule to get oneself back on track; other ways include setting goals, increasing awareness of your emotions, self-care- exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and taking on responsibilities to avoid the by stander attitude. Talking to trusted friends and family members who genuinely care about you is also very crucial. These actions will keep you grounded and give your life meaning and a purpose. It will remind you of what matters at the end of the day and reward you with the fulfilment of being useful, feeling worthy and wanted. On suicide, the psychologist identified stages of suicide starting with ideation, planning, auto-pilot and lastly the actual suicide. The red flag of suicide or signs to watch include: Talking about killing or harming oneself, expressing strong feelings of helplessness or feeling trapped, negative feelings towards oneself, lack of confidence, unusual preoccupation with death or dying, acting recklessly i.e. drunkenness, excessive dieting, and careless driving. Calling people to say good bye, giving a way things, telling people, everyone would better without me. When you notice any of this symptoms or exhibited by a loved please do not ignore them seek or recommend professional intervention. The doctor noted that suicidal people need proper assessment by a doctor and effective treatment. She recommended a combination of psycho-social and pharmacological treatment for both suicide and depression cases.
Counselling and psychotherapy helps deal with personal attitude, positive thoughts, rational analysis of events and provision of hope towards the future of combating depression and suicide. As an advice to Dr. Jane noted that individuals are going through tough times and traumatic experiences but there is no easy way to victory than looking for help. The highest values in life must be fought for and won. In the words of Adrianne Haslet-Dancer, she taught all her listeners to say to themselves that, “I refuse to be a victim, I am not defined by what happened in my life, I am survivor, defined by how I Live my life.”
Article by Makau wa Mutua