Some 20 – 30 years ago, the word “depression,” concerning mental health, was rarely used in Nigeria. This was not because the word did not exist then, but because there was less awareness as to what depression was. Depression in Nigeria is increasing and it would vital to know more about it.
Mental health, as a whole, received very little attention in the country. The only part that received focus was insanity. Hence we had more and more people confined to asylums and mental homes.
However, in recent times, there has been more focus on mental health and the various types of mental illness, of which depression happens to be one. This shift in focus was not in Nigeria alone but around the world. There have been intensified efforts in understanding what depression is and how it affects people. Before we go further, let us first understand what depression is.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental illness that affects an individual, resulting in changes, not just in the mood, but in the way the person thinks, feels, and reacts to things around them. It is a feeling of emptiness that leaves the person feeling hopeless and numb. At that moment, nothing seems exciting or worth doing. 
Depression is more than just sadness. While sadness may have an immediate cause, such as loss of a job or the death of a dear one, depression could occur randomly. In fact, one may even suffer from depression after hearing good news.That is what makes it special.
In Nigeria, depression is very easy to dismiss. Many people grow up in households where there are told to “cheer up” whenever they feel down. Some even have it worse and are threatened with harsh words to ‘magically’ improve their moods. Culture and religion have always affected our response to depression. Someone who is feeling down for no identifiable reason could be told to “go and pray.” You can read out the shocking mental health statistics in Nigeria.
Facts about Depression in Nigeria
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019 showed that 7,079,815 people, representing 3.9% of the country’s population, suffer from depression. This high level of depression has been linked to high suicide rates as another study by the WHO in 2018 put Nigeria as the 30th country with a high suicidal tendency. 
Another study on Depression among students of a Nigerian University showed that 58.2% of Nigerian students are depressed. 
Other studies have also shown that depression is prevalent in Nigeria and can lead to serious mental health problems. 
These horrifying figures are pointers to our inability to properly diagnose and treat mental illnesses, like depression.
There is always the tendency to downplay depression and see it as something quite ordinary. But depression is a very serious condition that, if left unchecked, could affect the individual severely. And that is why we have to take it very seriously in Nigeria. While it cannot be outrightly treated, depression can be managed better, so that your life does not suffer a setback during those periods when you are down. A clear way of understanding it is that the way you feel, when depressed, does not necessarily reflect how things may be around you.
Symptoms of Depression
There are certain feelings that characterise the feeling of depression.
1. Feeling of sadness and emptiness: someone who is suffering from depression would feel very sad, empty, and numb. Such an individual would also feel very hopeless even when there is so much to be hopeful for.
2. Loss of motivation and interest: depression can also take away someone’s motivation and interest in the activities they enjoy. This would make it very difficult for them to do things they like.
3. Sleep difficulty: depression makes it difficult for the individual to sleep at night. The person might stay up for a very long time or find it hard to sleep for very long periods, resulting in frequent wakes.
4. Lack of appetite: depression also takes one appetite away. Someone who enjoys eating food would no longer enjoy it. This could lead to weight loss.
5. Tiredness: even though such a person may find it difficult to sleep, they would feel frequently tired, not only physically, but mentally. This would make it increasingly difficult to perform simple tasks.
6. Worthlessness: depression can also have an individual feeling very worthless. This could lead to self-blame, self-guilt, and persistent wallowing in past failures and embarrassment.
7. Suicidal thoughts: depression, oftentimes, presents suicide as a way to escape from the emptiness. At that moment, the individual contemplates suicide more often, even though they may never carry it out.
Causes of Depression in Nigeria
Like we initially stated, there is no immediate cause of depression, unlike sadness, but it can be triggered by certain factors. The following are some of the factors that cause depression in an individual.
1. Personal experiences: the experiences the individual may have faced at some point in their life could result in depression. This could be suffering abuse as a child or in a relationship, stress at work or in school, inability to cope with the loss of a dear one. All these could result in depression later on.
2. Family traits: some people genetically inherit depression. There may be a history of depression in that family, being passed down from generation to generation. This puts the individual at risk of having depression. Personal experiences also affect genetic traits, increasing the chances of frequent depression.
3. Chemical imbalance: neurotransmitters are responsible for maintaining our moods. When some of those neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, are in short supply, it can lead to a switch in the individual’s mood.
4. Hormones: the individual’s hormones may experience changes that could lead to a change in mood. This is more common in females as there are times when their hormones could switch, like during and after pregnancy, during menstruation, and so on.
Depression Treatment in Nigeria
Because depression has no immediate or medical cause, treating it is not always easy. In any case, the treatment of depression is tailored to suit the individual, taking into account the causes and factors. Although there are drugs tagged as anti-depressants. These drugs are supposed to cause a change in mood, reducing the symptoms of depression, but not cure it totally.
Organizations like Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative are increasing awareness on mental health and illnesses as well as working to connect people to mental health professionals. You can reach out to them via their website.
You can also talk to a psychologist in good hospitals around to help you deal with the negative thoughts emotions. There’s also behavioural therapy and psychotherapy.
Individuals with depression are advised to seek more out of life and to focus on happy and positive thoughts. You can treat depression naturally by doing things that uplift your mood. Going for a stroll or doing something you enjoy when depressed can greatly improve your mood. Reaching out to a loved one can also lighten up your mood.
Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the quality of life of an individual by destroying their mood and makes them despondent. It is one of the common mental health problems in Nigeria. Depression is a real issue in Nigeria and they are facts that show it’s prevalence in the country. However, you can treat depression by talking to someone and doing things that uplift your mood. Above all, you need to talk to a mental health expert to help you treat depression.
As a Nigerian, I know you are facing difficulties daily and I know you have to deal with a lot of mental and emotional problems often. It’s possible that you may be depressed and I want to tell you that you are not alone, things will get better. Do what you can to get treatment and seek out a health professional for help.