Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness. …we don’t talk about things like depression in Nigeria but it is real” Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Americanah.
The reality of depression in Nigeria
Our attitude towards depression in Nigeria is awful; we act as if it is alien to this land, whereas one in every forty-five Nigerians is depressed. This means there are about 4 million depressed people among us. Isn’t that more than the whole population of Bayelsa state? As Chimamanda rightly said in the opening quote, we don’t talk about depression in Nigeria. That is why suicide now abodes with us, with our ivory towers as its living room, as there is hardly a month without the news of a student committing suicide.
Stories of victims
Two weeks ago, a final year student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chukwuemeka Akachi, committed suicide by drinking two bottles of Sniper, a common pesticide known for its potency. Akachi left a suicide note on his Facebook page. The suicide note reads,
“Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It had to be someone you know. I have chosen Jo Nketail’s poem as my suicide note: ‘they said you came looking for me. I don’t drown, I was the water; where do atheists go when they die!‘ Lol. Amen,“
It was the second time Akachi would attempt suicide. Akachi had earlier posted a short statement on his Facebook page on May 12, 2019, saying,
“My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who call, text, visit and, speak to me. May we always remember. May we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months, or days to my time here. But you know life support is expensive, right? Thank you for trying. Amen“
I don’t know what meaning you give to Akachi’s suicide note, but his first post provides us with the idea that he suffered from mental ill-health, probably depression, which caused him to kill himself.
Perhaps we leave that and look at Kolapo Olowoporoku, a student at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife who committed suicide a month ago because he failed some courses.
Olowoporoku was an extra year student who ought to have graduated with his mates two years earlier. Although he wasn’t the only one who failed those courses, Olowoporoku killed himself by swallowing a poisonous substance. Suppose you think these are university students who are too young to understand the vicissitudes of life.
What about Mr Aminu Zubair, a former lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Ibadan, who set himself ablaze in his staff quarters on the university premises? Mr Zubair was said to have been on his PhD for the past 22 years, while reports also alleged that he had some family issues.
Causes of depression in Nigeria
Many things can cause depression among people, especially the young:
- Broken relationships
- Social rejection, etc.
And suicide victims are not always cowards as we often think them to be; they are rational human beings like you and me who encounter challenges beyond their power, faith, and beliefs. The only difference is that they may be less strong-willed than we are. That is why anytime someone announces that they are depressed and wants to kill themselves, he deserves our empathy and compassion, not scorn and contempt, as one often sees on social media.
An encounter with a depressed person
I have never been depressed; although life has thrown me enough to put me under, I know what the victims go through. Some years ago, a church member of my Dad became depressed after her marriage crashed and visited our home for advice and comfort. She would always tell my dad, “Daddy, eni kin ma ronu kin de ma para mi. Bawo ni mi se ni ronuleyinnkan ti oju mi ri? Se iku osan ju ayetinmogbeyi lo?” meaning, Daddy, you ask me not to feel depressed and not to kill myself. Why won’t I feel depressed after all I have been through? Is death not better than the way I live?
My parents encouraged, comforted, and prayed for her, but they were not too religiously drunk to see that she needed medical care. However, it was a challenge getting her to see a psychiatrist at the Neuro-Psychiatrist Hospital in Abeokuta. “Ibi ti won ma ti wo weyrey niyen, (Where they cure mad people),” she would say. But my parents succeeded, and she is in better shape today.
Academic depression in Nigeria
As a student, the death of every student diminishes me because I am involved. We study under very severe conditions. Our student affairs departments are out of sync with our needs as students. The counselors and staff advisers only exist in names. Likewise, the student union, faculty, and departmental associations underperform as regards our welfare. Religion associations on our campuses are only after our mint. Class representatives do not represent us.
Nonetheless, our parents pressure us to succeed amid these stupefying odds. We feel left alone, betrayed, and frustrated. And thoughts of death begin to drift to us, but we must continue to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. We must remember that life is a precious gift from God, and killing ourselves is giving the middle finger to God. Talk to someone when you feel depressed, seek medical help. Suicide is not a solution to life’s difficulties, it is just a fatal escape.
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