Depression isn’t always obvious”
Courtesy of Sonia Stewart
This is me four years ago. This is me as a person who had been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety in their last year of high school. This is me after struggling to complete my last year of high school while being an all round, active student and debating throughout my high school career. This is me after trying the 6th combination of antidepressants in the span of two months. This is me after numerous thoughts of suicide while those who walked alongside me in the hallways of my high school had no idea. Yes me, the one that was “always smiling” and “never not happy” as my peers said. This is a photo of me where yes, I am SMILING and goofing off in this picture, and visibly managing, but I could all the sudden crumble to the floor and have my brain fighting itself for control of my own life.
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24-year-olds, the world over, second only to road accidents; 4,000 people die prematurely each year to suicide according to World Health Organization. In fact, only 1 out of 5000 children who need mental health services receives them- in Kenya alone. Now imagine the menace throughout the world. If that doesn’t anger you, it should.
I’ve lost two friends to suicide, several others ended up in the hospital for attempted suicide and I struggled with severe mental health issues including thoughts of ending my own life. I would consider myself as an enthusiastic, outgoing and involved person, that’s why when some selected people found out I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, they didn’t believe me. “NO way, that’s not true, you are the happiest person I know.”
As a society, we must stop painting a picture that all people with mental health issues look visually unhappy or unstable. The reality is there are so many people suffering in silence afraid of what their friends and family will think of them, scared of their reputation being ruined. I often hear people say “She is depressed.” “He is bipolar”. But think about this, have you ever heard someone say “He is cancer”? Probably not. That’s because mental illness is still treated in our society as not a real illness and we still plaster a psychological disorder onto a person’s identity. You also always hear people tell people with mental illness, “Just think positive, it’s all in your head”. But how ridiculous would sound for me to tell someone with a broken leg, “Just walk it off, it’s all in your leg.”
It was probably one of the reasons why it was so extremely difficult for me to accept I had a mental illness. In addition, I keep up with the news and volunteered to help people less fortunate than me. I absolutely knew I was extremely privileged and I felt so guilty for it. But, the more guilty and bad I felt about feeling sad, the sadder I got. “Why the hell DID I deserve to be depressed?” I had no right I thought. It was a vicious cycle.
The thing that saved me was accepting this was just a health challenge I had to face, and opening to the people around me, INCLUDING my best friend, Denis Muthomi, just as if I would if I had a broken ankle. It’s okay not to be okay, it’s not okay not to go for help. Whether you have a mental illness or not, your brain MATTERS and needs LOVE and CARE. Talking changed my life forever.
For those suffering, reach out and speak up, as hard as it may be, just try. Know that you are NOT alone and you are loved. You are worth it. In my school, currently, just like many others throughout Africa (including my high school, Kenya’s premier secondary institution- Alliance High school), there are a lot of depressed souls, crushed spirits, crying behind those closed doors every day and night. There is very little effort to ensure they’re given the mental health care they deserve as much as there is an emphasis on the physical health care.
In essence, I dream that one-day mental health will be considered as equally important as physical health.
A semicolon is used by an author that could’ve ended a sentence, but chose not to. I am the author and the sentence is my life. I hope this will help me open up the conversation about mental illness. I hope when people see it they will ask me what it means. I hope that it will serve as a reminder of why I’ve kept going in the darkest of times. That even though I have a mental illness that MY story is not over yet. If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out. Your story is not over yet.
Many thanks to all the people who’ve impacted on my life, even when they least knew, for the love and warmth, undying support, and affection.