Tackling depression among women in Nigeria

By Taiye Elebiyo-Edeni

Nnenna Chibuzor, 28, became depressed after losing her husband four years ago and her husband’s family accused her of having a hand in his death.

Chibuzor says the situation has caused her sleepless nights as she often feels worthless and helpless. Chibuzor is among many, especially women, who are traumatised by depression.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report published in August, every 40 seconds a person dies by suicide globally because of depression.

The WHO further reports that 800,000 people die by suicide every year with more than 300 million people suffering from depression.

The Nigeria National Depression report 2018 says at least 60 million Nigerians are estimated to be at risk of suffering depression.

The Nigerian situation is linked to social factors, such as economic and cultural pressures. But many do not know they are depressed.

A survey carried out by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) among 63 young widows to ascertain the major challenges they face shows majority of the respondents claiming they are dealing with depression.

In the survey, 88.5 per cent of the respondents say they are depressed, 63.9 per cent have low self-esteem, and 52.5 per cent have child care challenges.

Mrs Shola Oluwanuga, Chief Consultant Psychiatrist with National Hospital, Abuja, describes depression as mood disorder that primarily affects mood.

Oluwanuga says there are three core symptoms of depression – sad mood, lack of interest in things that usually interest the person and lack of energy.

She says a depressed person is always unhappy, not interested in their environment, lacks energy and always wishes to die.

According to her, statistics shows that women are more likely to be depressed than men because they go through many hormonal changes in life.

“One of the things women lose interest in while depressed is sex, especially when they have so many kids to look after. The husband instead of being compassionate begins to get irritated with her.

“Every night she is tired; until it gets severe when she starts feeling worthless, having the wish to die that is when family tends to get alert that she’s depressed.

Oluwanuga says children also face depression. She says that in the past such children were said to have spiritual problem but with mental health awareness, people have realised that is a medical problem.
The consultant advises parents to spend more quality time with their families rather than spend time chatting on phone which affects children’s upbringing.

Mr Adedotun Ajiboye, a clinical psychologist with the Mental Health Department, Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, Ado-Ekiti, says depression ranges from mild to moderate and severe.

Ajiboye says if handled quickly, the condition never gets severe.

“If somebody has mild depressive episode, the psychologist employs the talking cure without prescribing drugs, which is done in a standard hospital.

“But the moment the depression has entered into the moderate depressive episode that is when the patient needs to take a drug called anti-depressant, which should be given by a psychiatrist.

“Then for the severe episode of depression, automatically, that person needs drugs and can even be admitted in hospital because such a person can become suicidal and can take his or her life.

According to him, symptoms of depression are suicidal idea or thought, loss of appetite which can lead to hypoglycemia, psychological stress, sleeplessness, sadness, feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Depression drains hope, energy and thinking faculty; it can lead to death, if not quickly arrested.’’

He says women are more liable to depression than men because of biological, psychological and social factors.

Ajiboye explains that oestrogen hormones which play vital roles in the menstrual and menopausal experiences of women predispose them to depression.

“Psychologically, a lot of inner disturbing thoughts a woman goes through can make her more prone to depression than a man.

“In fact, most of these inner disturbing thoughts are not ventilated; rather they are repressed, leading to mental health conditions such as depression.

“A man can easily ventilate his feelings or disturbing thoughts more than women.’’

Ajiboye adds that women are faced with a lot of cultural and marital issues, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, which make them more prone to depression.

He says a depressed patient requires adequate support from the family and loved ones for continuous healing process after discharge from hospital.

Dr. Daniel Ajogbon, Consultant Psychiatrist, Federal Medical Centre Lokoja, attributes the rising cases of depression to unemployment, sickness, unpaid salaries, lack of confidants, broken homes, bereavement and loneliness.

Ajogbon, says he attends to five to 10 depressed patients per week and that in on month, he had two severe causes of depression with two patients slicing their throats.

Oluwanuga says: “When a person is depressed, one of the things the person needs is understanding, a listening ear. If the person is suddenly withdrawn and does not talk again, he or she loses interest in things.

“Once you recognise that there is a problem get help. It is not a permanent thing and it is very treatable. Sometimes, all the person needs especially with mild depression, might be counselling.“

Ajogbon adds that for depression to reduce among women, they need to work outside their homes and have confidants that they can talk to.

Chibuzor feels that: “Families should stop thinking and saying that the surviving spouse had a hand in the death of the partner. Losing a loved one is already tough and hearing side talks from in-laws makes it more difficult.

“Re-orientation in thinking, having free trauma centres for widows would help. Honestly, mine has been over four years and I still have suicidal thoughts sometimes, like I should pass out literally.“ (NANFeatures)

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