Growing up, all through early schooling and through his university days, 26-year-old Bassey Ekpo has always been a friendly, outgoing person, who was always popular and made everyone else laugh at his jokes and happy-go-lucky attitude to life. He was brilliant and meticulous with his work and frequently offered to help his colleagues with their tasks after completing his share of the workload. He never failed to surpass expectations with near-perfect delivery of whatever task was assigned to him. But some changes had become noticeable over the past 6 months. He was not sleeping well and would be cranky and irritable at work. His performance became sloppy with lots of careless mistakes. He was failing to meet deadlines and delivery targets and when he managed to submit something, it was way below what had become the norm for him. He became withdrawn and appeared to have lost his ‘spark’. His colleague and best friend, Olu is increasingly worried about him and called him after work to talk to him and the following conversation ensued:
Olu: Bassey, what is wrong?
Bassey: Nothing is exactly wrong, every day is not Christmas jare. I am cool.
Olu: I know every day is not Christmas but I have noticed that you have been increasingly moody, and irritable and you are no longer as happy as your usual ebullient self. While you have been insisting you are fine, I think things are getting worse with you and I am worried. I would like you to talk to a mental health professional.
Elvis: I am just a bit sad, that’s all. It’s not that serious. I will be fine.
Olu: Hmmm. I am glad that you admit to feeling sad these days. But I think you should note that there is a difference between sadness and depression.
Sadness is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Sadness is a typical response to situations that cause emotional distress or pain. There are various levels of sadness, but occurring in the context of everyday life, they are usually fleeting and at most last for a few days, and then we are back to our usual selves.
Depression, on the other hand, is a form of overwhelming and severe sadness (intensity) that lasts continuously for several weeks or longer, and it disrupts our ability to function at work, and in our social interactions as well as family relationships. Depressive symptoms may persist for a variable period…lasting from several weeks to months or even years – if left untreated. This will cause significant emotional pain and distress to the affected person and their loved ones.
Another common misconception is to imagine that depression can only occur in the aftermath of negative or bad things happening. Depression can hit for no obvious cause, even when it appears like the person is having a charmed life. People with depression may feel worthless, frustrated, or hopeless. They may feel unjustifiably guilty and sometimes ashamed because they feel they are letting everyone down. Thus, they withdraw socially and want to be left alone and not face anyone. Their appetite and sleep may also be poor. They may cry easily and sometimes have suicidal thoughts.
Bassey: Depression is a woman thing, not for men. So, all these explanations do not apply to me. Do I look mad to you?
Olu: That’s what people fail to understand, depression is not a female or male thing; but rather a human thing. All human beings have emotions and can experience depression. It is commoner in females, but many men have been conditioned from childhood not to express their emotions or admit vulnerability – so when they are depressed, they suffer in stoic silence. They will be reluctant to discuss with their friends, spouses, or family members and are usually reluctant to see a professional. Bassey, you are my guy, but this is how you behave now. Because it is clear to everyone else that you are struggling.
Bassey: Thanks a lot. I feel I understand better, and it all makes sense now. What should I do now?
Olu: I am glad. Let’s book an appointment to see a mental health professional (clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) so you can have a proper review, and benefit from therapy and medications if needed. As your friends, we will continue to provide social support and always have your back. It will take a while but you will be fine.
Bassey: Wow, thanks so much Olu. This means a lot to me. I have truly been struggling emotionally but was in denial.
Olu: I am glad you get it now and I am encouraged that you will soon be fine with treatment. Sometimes, it is others close to you who will notice some changes that you may not be aware of. Can we see someone tomorrow?
Bassey: All right Olu, thank you so much. Tomorrow is good.
This article is in commemoration of International Men’s Day (November 19th). Because men’s mental health matters.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 24th November 2022