A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Ibironke Thomas, has called for more awareness, continuous education, early detection and treatment to reduce the burden of depression in Nigeria.
Thomas, who works at the Synapse Services Centre for Psychological Medicine in Lagos state made the call in on Friday.
According to her, mental disorders, including depression, are still not regarded as serious health problems in the country.
“Depression is a medical illness contributed to by an interplay of both biological factors, that is, genetic predisposition, hormones and neurotransmitters and environmental factors such as adverse life events.
“Due to lack of awareness, many people do not know that they or someone they know have depression and try to cope with it sometimes for years without the necessary help.
She said even though knowledge of existence of mental health problems is improving with education, information dissemination through the media and NGOs, the level of its awareness is still quite low.
“In general, psychological illnesses are not regarded as `serious’ problems. There is also a lot of stigma and discrimination attached to people who have psychological disorders. People usually seek help when symptoms become severe, incapacitating or embarrassing,” she said.
The consultant psychiatrist also urged the governments and relevant stakeholders to put more attention and resources, including trained staff, into developing and equipping the Primary Health Care (PHC) system.
She said that most of the detection and initial management of depressive disorders need to be at the primary healthcare centres in the rural and semi-urban communities.
“This is why the World Health Organisation, under the Mental Health Gap Action Project (mhGAP), has been promoting training of personnel all over the world to scale up mental health services at PHC levels. The mhGAP initiative is actually being pushed forward in some parts of Nigeria, but we definitely need to do more to get the services to the grassroots. Depression is real; it is an illness like any other; if it is detected early enough, it can be treated effectively, much of the sufferings and lost productivity are avoided and lives saved”.
She also called on health professionals and the society at large to talk more openly about depression, especially those who have gone through it and spread the news that it can be treated with good outcomes.
“Awareness programmes should be promoted in schools, markets, offices, media houses and social media platforms so people recognise the early signs and seek help without feeling ashamed,” she said.
The consultant said that someone with mild or moderate depression might not exhibit behaviour that could call for attention.
She said that such person might be experiencing significant distress and sufferings affecting all domains of life, including personal fulfilment, family life, social life and work.
“We need to understand that persons with depression cannot control the way they feel, think or perceive situations when they are ill. They need help,” she said.
Thomas said that depression and mental health problems in general could be prevented to some extent by improving the social determinants of health.
“Stressful life events, especially when experienced over prolonged periods, such as bereavement, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, exposure to terrible experiences such as the terrorism and war also contribute to poor mental health,“ she said