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Lara Popoola: Nigerians Get Depressed Too!



Lara PopoolaRecently, I have noticed a lot of online and personal conversations about depression among Nigerians. I am glad these conversations are happening because for the longest time, I felt that we cloaked ourselves with a garment of fabricated immunity. Common remarks about how strong and resilient we are as Nigerians, combined with the casual negligence that plagues many facets of our country have contributed largely to the downplay and ignorance of depression as a serious mental illness.

I knew I had to write this article after I attended an event where a comedian joked about a depressed Nigerian man’s failed suicide attempt from the second floor of a building, compared to the American man who went to the 50th floor to show that he was truly depressed, and more serious about killing himself. I thought the joke wasn’t funny, because it highlighted a lack of sensitivity to such a serious issue.  I turned to my friend and said “people actually suffer real depression in Nigeria and every suicide attempt should be taken seriously”. Sadly, my voice of concern was quickly lost in the rapturous laughter from the audience. Perhaps I was too critical – maybe he understood his responsibility as a comedian to use his jokes as a means of underlining the unspoken realities of our society which we would rather shroud in silence. Nevertheless, I am sure that in every joke is a speck of truth which should not be easily dismissed.

That wasn’t the first time I had heard such a blasé comment about the legitimacy of Nigerians suffering depression or feeling suicidal. Statements like “we can’t afford to be depressed o, we are a happy people”, “don’t be like these oyinbo people who are depressed about everything”, “Just snap out of it and be happy”, “you have everything in the world going for you, what is there to be depressed about?”, “you are too young to be depressed”, “there are people going through worse, so just get over it already”. I could go on but I’m sure you get the gist.

I remember being at a gathering with some friends, discussing various life issues, when one of the guys mentioned that he didn’t want any more children because he dreaded a repeat episode of the post natal depression his wife suffered after the birth of their only child.  Out of the blue, someone made an unwitting comment about how it is amazing that women in Nigeria don’t suffer post natal depression because they have untold strength, and are often too consumed with the humdrum of day to day living to be depressed, unlike western women. After all, in the days of our forefathers, women had their babies in the morning, went to the farm in the afternoon and came home to cook for their families in the evening – something along those lines. I didn’t know what to make of such contribution – whether to accept it as a tribute to the supposed strength of Nigerian women, or object to such sentiments which undermine and suppresses the real struggles that many women experience in Nigeria.

I am no mental health expert, but it is a cause worth lending my voice to. I think we’ve had one too many depression related suicide reports in the last couple of months to warrant enlightened conversations and emphasise the following facts:

Depression is a mental illness
Depression as a serious mental health disorder affects a person psychologically, biologically and socially. It causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, poor concentration, etc. It is not the same as feeling sad or going through a rough patch – let’s be real, we all go through periods of feeling down. However, a person suffering from depression will often experience intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness for weeks or months, instead of just a few days. There are different types or subtypes of depression, including: mild depression, major depression, bi-polar depression, post-natal depression and psychotic depression. Find out more here

Depression is not a white man’s disease
There is an unmistakable impression that depression is a white man’s disease and only a luxury that the rich and sophisticated can afford. Feel free to hazard a few guesses on how we arrived at this conclusion, but it simply makes no sense. The factors that increases the likelihood of depression are not culturally or geographically bound. Abuse, genetics, serious illnesses and major events such as the death of a loved one, unemployment, relationship breakdown, retirement and birth of a child are life experiences that cuts across the globe.

Therefore, it is sensible to conclude that depression doesn’t care whether you are white or black, Hausa or Yoruba. It doesn’t discriminate against gender or age, neither does it acknowledge religious beliefs or academic qualifications. To continue believing that it is a western illness will be grossly negligent of us as individuals and as a country. As we note the increasing report of suicides and depression in Nigeria, we must educate ourselves to ensure that we are aware and equipped to provide support.

Nigerian men suffer depression
A woman might have an easier time admitting she’s depressed because she is renowned for her bag of emotions. On the other hand, a man in our incredibly patriarchal society is more likely to put his pride & ego before all else, no matter the cost. Imagine the perceived shame that comes with him admitting he is depressed, and the obtuse remarks from his friends asking him to ‘man-up’ or encouraging him to drink away his sorrows.

3 years ago, I received the message that a friend of mine had lost her dad. I wondered what made a Nigerian man in his mid-fifties with a wife and 3 kids throw himself at oncoming traffic. The same way I wondered about the death of another man I heard about. His wife found him hanging in their living room one afternoon, 6 months after he had lost his job and the death of his 2nd child. She later claimed that her once teetotal, gentle and hardworking husband had suddenly picked up a drinking habit, slept all the time and became very withdrawn. His family claimed their son had been charmed by a business partner. I suspect amongst other things that he might have been a man suffering depression, who lacked the appropriate care and attention needed for his recovery.

So, where do we go from here? Firstly, we must acknowledge that enduring any kind of mental illness is hard enough. Therefore, we must discourage all kinds of stigmatisation, insensitivity and educate ourselves on how to identify and support a family or friend going through depression. Lastly, mental health awareness campaigns and investment in mental health facilities and education will go a long way in addressing and overcoming many of the challenges experienced by mental health patients in Nigeria.

Have you suffered depression or know someone who has? Share your story and educate BN reader.

When I’m not negotiating contracts from 9-5, I’m daydreaming about my next travel adventure, working on my podcast which will be launched in Jan 2018 and writing my first book. I love reading, teaching my Sunday school kids and spending time with friends - indulging in good food and conversation. I am passionate about young people having access to good education and currently serve as a School Governor in my local authority. I’m currently seeking opportunities to work with corporate and government organisations in Nigeria on social development, especially education. For now, you can contact me at [email protected]


  1. ijerinma

    March 21, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    This is indeed timely, thank you

  2. kristle

    March 21, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Depression is no joke and only God can deliver the depressed….Your life must be filled with prayer. it is not by going to church every sunday, one must be a doer of God words to overcome all the devices of the devil….

    • Dunni

      March 22, 2017 at 9:40 am

      I believe i had a close relationship wt God yet i had serious depression for over a year after i came back to naija from d UK. So its not about not being spiritual enough. Everything seemed bleek, hopeless, & like God had forsaken me. Sigh! I withdrew from family & friends. I had to force myself to pray & keep trying at life. Yes God healed me eventually. But ppl need to understand this issue more & stop making silly comments like “u r ungrateful, u have nothing to be ‘sad’ for; get out of ur inactivity & do somethn” sigh!

  3. uzomamakago

    March 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    There was once some pastor in church had the freaking guts during a sermon to go “depression is a white man’s disease”, etc and basically trivialize the issue. Its been many years since that Sunday, but I can’t shake off the feeling of disgust (forgive me Lord) I get anytime he climbs the pulpit.

  4. Akara Pancake

    March 21, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Of course we do. Our problem is that as we were colonized by the British, we inherited the “get on with it” attitude, and many are afraid to discuss their depression for fear of being perceived as weak, inadequate or a mugu. I think it is the worse for men, especially Igbo men who are under huge and unnecessary pressures.

    When I lost my dad some years ago, an Uncle advised me to suck it in on the burial dates and not cry or show grief as it is “unmanly”. He said specifically “do not let them see you cry.” So I naively bottled up my grief during the burial rites and for weeks after that. Then things came to a head some months later, when I started having panic attacks and being unable to sleep properly. I became passive aggressive and pessimistic about life. I was in a foul mood all day, and stopped going to church. Looking back now I was depressed. Not enough to take my own life as I wont even kill a chicken for dinner. But enough to hurt my relationships and affect my quality of life.

    In more developed countries, I would have spoken to someone about it – like a professional counselor or therapists.

  5. legal diva

    March 21, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    You didn’t tell us how we can help people around us wen they go thru depression. What do we say or do to make them feel better.

    • Hephie Brown

      March 22, 2017 at 11:45 am

      . Be there.

      According to Serani, the best thing you can do for someone with depression is to be there.

      2. Try a small gesture.

      If you’re uncomfortable with emotional expression, you can show support in other ways,

      3. Don’t judge or criticize.

      What you say can have a powerful impact on your loved one. According to Serani, avoid saying statements such as: “You just need to see things as half full, not half empty” or “I think this is really all just in your head. If you got up out of bed and moved around, you’d see things better.”

      These words imply “that your loved one has a choice in how they feel – and has chosen, by free will, to be depressed,

      4. Avoid the tough-love approach.

      Many individuals think that being tough on their loved one will undo their depression or inspire positive behavioral changes, Serani said. For instance, some people might intentionally be impatient with their loved one, push their boundaries, use silence, be callous or even give an ultimatum (e.g., “You better snap out of it or I’m going to leave”)

      5. Don’t minimize their pain.

      Statements such as“You’re just too thin-skinned” or “Why do you let every little thing bother you?” shame a person with depression

      6. Avoid offering advice.

      It probably seems natural to share advice with your loved one. Whenever someone we care about is having a tough time, we yearn to fix their heartache.

      But Serani cautioned that “While it may be true that the depressed person needs guidance, saying that will make them feel insulted or even more inadequate and detach further.”

      What helps instead, Serani said, is to ask, “What can we do to help you feel better?”

      7. Avoid making comparisons.

      Unless you’ve experienced a depressive episode yourself, saying that you know how a person with depression feels is not helpful

      8. Learn as much as you can about depression.

      9. Be patient.

      When you’re patient with your loved one, you’re letting them know that it doesn’t matter how long this is going to take, or how involved the treatments are going to be, or the difficulties that accompany the passage from symptom onset to recovery, because you will be there,

  6. Gia

    March 21, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    “Depression is not a white man’s disease”


  7. Well Done

    March 21, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Lara what a beautiful right up. Thank you for reminding us that we are all human and our feelings should not be a source of shame or something that we ignore. Life is tough. Let us help one another simply by validating each other’s feeling even when we do not fully understand them. It goes a long way.

  8. kwinny

    March 22, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    A friend of mine lost a parent and became withdrawn and will often tell me that he was depressed and I did not understand it. I will be like “depression is not a Nigerian thing oh, where did you hear of depression?”

    My sister had a tough time in school and life and felt like life wasn’t going the way she wanted. No friends, no money, no relationship…she would wake up every morning with a loud hiss that would wake me up and I would ask what’s up and she will just say she’s not in the mood. This went on for years.

    Me, I had fertility issues and a major disappointment. It was then I understood what depression was and how these two people felt. I hated all the fun things I used to do. I hated everyday. When I didn’t think of dying because I felt it would be better to not feel hurt and it would be better for people around to not deal with my mood, I wanted to harm myself with blades and knives-at least there would be a reason for the pain I was feeling in my heart. I would cry endlessly then wash my face and put on make up…

    But, I thank God! It is not everybody that makes it through tough times (Thank God if you have overcome). There’s nobody that I could talk to. Honestly, I don’t really know how I got better. There were many times that I did not feel like praying but the Word of God that I already knew kept me. Sometimes, I would remember them. Well, since then, I have made an effort to not take any sign(s) of depression lightly. I try to make everyone around me happy even if it is with a smile or “it is going to be alright”. People need to be encouraged.

    For anyone going through any stuff, I get you. I understand you. I pray that God will make a way for you even when you think you have gotten to your breaking point.
    You are loved. You are worth it. It will not always remain like this.

    It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed-Lamentations 3:22

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