If statistics are anything to go by, Kenya is ranked as the sixth most depressed country in Africa according to a study by the WHO with 1.9 million reported cases. There could be more. Suicide rates are at an all time high especially among men. Then there are the killing sprees that are shaking the nation from the all is well that stays well slumber.
Though I am no authority on mental health I can confidently say that one of the reasons we Kenyans are in the dark on mental health is because it is considered a taboo subject. Mental disorders are thought to be for the cursed few and not a thing that I could suffer, that you could be enduring silently. Depression is not acknowledged as life threatening and is believed that like most things, this too shall pass. We cannot change a thing that we do not face. Let’s face it, starting with depression.
Depression is a mental health disorder characterised by a persistent dejected, low mood and/or loss of interest in any and all activities, causing significant impairment to the way you feel, the way you think and how you act. While we might all have had the chance encounter with melancholy causing us to feel down and lose the vigour and pleasure for life, depression lingers longer, hits harder. It stems from one or from a blend of many causes. It could be genetic, or environmental – inability to cope with the pressures of life leading to stress – or as a consequence of drug and alcohol use, abuse and dependency. It could also be diet related or could be an imbalance of hormones or maybe it could be your gut.
The body is designed in such a way that everything is interconnected and symbiotic. The neck bone connected to the head bone and the shoulder bone connected to the backbone and so on and so forth. Each body part transmits signals to the brain and back to the body through a complex network of nerves and neurotransmitters. Which is how we can tell when we are hungry, or thirsty or on heat. Let’s say one of the networks’ systems is compromised throwing everything off balance and one after the other, like a domino tower, it all comes crushing down.
Genetics means your family has a history of mental disorders. It could be wired into your DNA, in the very fabric of you and you do not even know it until something awakens the sleeping giant.
Environmental triggers are everywhere with life being life and the world being what it’s always been. Families break up, bereavement and loss, relational turmoil, you get a baby, work demands or lack thereof and still there are responsibilities that adulting comes with. And such is life. But sometimes they come trickling in faster than you can process, or maybe you are just not equipped to take on too much. Maybe ‘mwanaume si kujikaza’ and maybe women cannot take it all in in stride. We break apart.
Drugs and alcohol. Well, alcohol is a depressant and so are other drugs from the depressant category. Some drugs get you so dependent on them to stabilize your mood and to feel whole that they become the thing you need to be you. Some use these as an escape from reality or got hooked on drugs that were supposed to heal and treat. Once they get into your body and change the normal function of certain organs; like the liver, and the stomach, and the brain’s control centres, they cause hormonal imbalances and trigger a depressive disorder. They awaken the sleeping giant we alluded to earlier. Drugs and alcohol have been linked with eating disorders which further starve the brain of the nutrients it needs to stay whole and to repair what is broken.
Food. The thing you consume to keep you alive could be the thing that kills you from the inside. If we are what we eat, there are those who are all sugar and refined foods. There is such a thing as brain food and lacking this in the diet is a major contributor to the widespread epidemic that depression is becoming. Foods like omega 3 rich fatty fish, nuts and nut butters and avocados to mention a few. Certain foods like drugs can be addictive and have a similar effect in that they alter your normal body response and trigger production of mood hormones.
Hormonal imbalances from something as natural as child birth causing post partum depression which is something women in this great nation of ours hide in the shadows and suffer silently.
Your gut. Scientists are coming up with a myriad of explanations that show a brain-gut connection. Studies are showing that gut disorders almost always come accompanied by depression and constant headaches. Maybe the thing that ails your mind is not in the mind or in the brain but is in your gut. They further state tat maintaining a healthy gut flora goes a long way in the management of these symptoms.
It is time we take individual responsibility for our health wholesomely. This includes mental health. This magnificent and powerful machine is fragile too. Seeing a counselling psychologist does not mean you are crazy and does not make you less of a man, or a woman. Let yourself cry, you probably need it. Exercise often. Have regular sleep. Eat well and hydrate. Make time for love. Take care of you. We need you. We need you whole. We need you at your best.