My first encounter with depression was when I lost a friend to suicide. There was loss, pain and the lingering question in my mind: “What could I have done to prevent this from ever supervening”. My thought process could not logically answer this question!
I had no idea that my friend had suffered depression all this time. Whenever he was sad, we would say he was moody. When he would cry, we would say he is a man and he will get over it. This is what we are taught after all, being a man is being tough. Complaining about how grievously you feel is being naughty. But what if it is not? What if this is a pressing issue that can cost a life? I did my research.
According to the American Physiatrist Association, depression is a common medical illness that negatively affects the way you feel, think and act. It causes feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed and can affect the person emotionally and physically. Luckily this is also very treatable. Ignoring or branding it as being naughty will not help but only escalate the issue further.
This branding even affects those that have had the courage to seek treatment as they can be called spineless and weak. We further brand them crazy and subconsciously we do not treat them with the same respect as before because of an illness that can be treated. In the end, the people do the ‘manliest’ action, make a conclusion like a ‘man’ and end their misery.
Society stigmatization also leads to self-stigmatization as it can heavily affect the way people deal with their illnesses. My experience with talking and listening to people with depression has provided me with accounts of how it is shameful and often kept a secret. Most cannot even tell the people closest to them and often will brand it as a mood swing or even a headache.
Kevin Hines, a global speaker and mental health activist says many people will not seek treatment because of the fear of being called crazy or insane. No one wants to learn this the hard way, we should approach this by putting ourselves in another person’s shoes.
No one wants to be ignored or be called an attention seeker when you feel like your life is at its weakest point? Everyone would like someone to confide in, someone who will not judge them for their illness.
This is not to undermine the importance of dignity in our culture, but we should also know that it is crucial to seek help when we need it. As a person do not let stigma create self-doubt and shame to prevent one from seeking help, it is one’s life after all and no one knows that better than the owner.
As a friend, co- worker and spouse, learn that the best way to help is removing stigma by learning what depression is and what it is not. This is prevention from falling into a trap of branding it as something else.
Speak to people with depression with respect and dignity they deserve. Emphasize on their abilities not their limitations and please refer to the person not the disease.
Lastly, learn to listen without a bias because listening might provide the best treatment to save a life.
As a nation, let us remove the stigma associated with mental illness and treat everyone with respect. Let us learn the right way to use our spirit of solidarity to support each other with open arms and an open mind. That is Rwandan togetherness after all.
Precious Nyabami is a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (USA)
Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.