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Depression, Intervention & The Rationality of Suicide

After the untimely tragic death of the South African rapper HHP, there has been a renewed interest in the conversation about depression. We all know that the conversation won’t last a week but let us utilize this educatunity to spread awareness about depression.

The problem with conversations around hype time is that there is a lot of unbalanced truths being said and unthought assumptions being hailed. So as a person who is also online, here is my $0.02.

The calling of the world is not to speak about or raise awareness about depression, the calling of the world is to actively prevent and treat depression. However, awareness is raised so that we can have more foot soldiers to rely on in combating depression and high suicide rate that comes with it.

What causes depression?

In my view (I might be wrong), depression is mostly caused by two things, that is, having a terrible life aka Shit Life Syndrome and chemical imbalances in your brain.

Having a terrible life means being in dire circumstances such as poverty, unhealthy relations, poor family dynamics and having no sense of purpose or meaning. For example, if you are a millennial without family or anyone to depend on but yourself to keep the lights on, food on the table and pay yourself for college and you have little or no money, you are likely to get depressed.

Chemical imbalances mean that you can be having a proper home by any standard but your brain still wants to kill you. By my limited understanding, this is caused by having low happiness producing chemicals in your brain.

Therefore, it is important to understand this before trying to offer advice and remedies to yourself or to anyone with depression. At times your life will be very terrible and you are depressed but your brain is okay in terms of chemical balances, it will only be reflecting your state. At times your life will be okay but your brain will be having terrible chemical balances. And at times the universe can outdo itself and you have both a terrible life and a terrible brain.

Interlude: Why #CheckOnYourFriends Doesn’t Work?

In the past months, people have started to use the phrase “Check on your [strong] friends”. The idea is that you should check on your people to avoid and prevent depression and suicide. I have always vehemently hated that phrase (and apparently most people living with depression hate it too). Beyond its obvious blatant virtue signalling, the phrase doesn’t communicate much on what to do in checking up on your friends. It doesn’t say because “Check on your friends” simply doesn’t work. Let me help you understand this: try texting or calling a friend you last spoke to in a month or week and ask them “How are you?” and let’s see if they will tell you anything beyond “I’m good”.

To prevent depression and suicide, we can’t depend on a one-time check on your friend event, we need to do a whole lot more!

Why intervention is always late?

The problem we have in society is that we are so keen on fixing the symptoms and results of depression than mitigating it. People want to help when you are already going through a tough time and they ask you to talk about it. That is the one time you don’t want to talk about your issues. Asking for a suicidal person to have a conversation with you whilst they are battling their demons seldom works.

There are many reasons why late-stage intervention is a poor-quality intervention.

First, by the time you intervene, the person would have developed poor and toxic beliefs about society, themselves and you. For example, take an orphaned 16-year-old girl who grew up poor and did not have clothes so she couldn’t fit in the society and spent most of the time in her own room without interaction with society (and the only interaction with the world is through the filters of the perfect world of Instagram) to the point of which when she steps outside she starts having anxiety and panic attacks. If this person attempts to commit suicide or is now obviously depressed at 20, and you try to intervene, your intervention will not do much because she won’t relate and what you will be saying will not be true to her world. You will say something like “Hang in there, there is light at the end of the tunnel”. Uhm, no! She has been living like this all her life and you expect to convince this person that life will be different in future, how do you know that? So any late intervention will be too late to be meaningful.

Also, interventions are usually one-time or during crisis time. When someone tweets or vocalises that they are battling depression, their inboxes will be flooded by messages of hope and love. However, that immediately stops when the hype is over and the person is back where they started, 9 years of battling depression, alone.

When should you intervene?

Intervention should be timely and every day, that is, before depression becomes crippling. Contrary to what I said above, I wholeheartedly appreciate every one of you who have intervened in crisis times and you were there for someone, you saved someone's life. I think more can be done to save more lives. More means intervening earlier than the normal times. When is earlier? I think earlier is now. Treat everyone you meet or interact with on a daily basis as a potentially depressed person and likely need your help. At times the help you can offer is not being a mean person to people you meet. Below is what “more” constitutes of and ways you can

How should you intervene?

I started this post by hazarding the opinion that depression is mostly caused by having a terrible life. Therefore, I think the first place to start helping is by providing resources for someone to reconfigure and fix their lives. Resources are not always money (even though purposeful money is always welcome), resources are just that, resources. One way you can help is sharing job/scholarship/fellowship opportunities and even helping in terms of applications by buying the broadband data if it’s an online application or printing of documents and offering transport money if it’s a physical application. At times resources mean buying someone airtime to stay connected with friends, at times it’s sharing clothing and at times it’s giving someone a book (my favourite). Helping out shouldn’t be always costly, but it should be meaningful.

At times, depressed people are lonely and lonely people are depressed. Therefore, texting all the love, hope and scriptures won’t help. They need to feel around people. You can offer to go to their place to watch a movie with them or invite them over for a movie and buy popcorn and juice or noodles or biscuits or any light meal. They will appreciate it. Also, invite them to join you at barbecues, parties or even your local church youth meeting where they will interact with new people under your watch and don’t leave them at all times during the meeting.

Also, regularly, on a daily basis talk to them. This will help when someone is going through depression or a life event to be able to confide in you because you have developed a rapport. Also, the reason why people can’t talk to people on a daily basis is that the conversation is always small talk. Try texting random things to someone or having an in-depth conversation.

If the person is depressed and clearly it’s not their life that needs attention but their brain; the best way to intervene is to encourage them to consistently take their medication. Contrary to popular belief that many people take anti-depressants. It’s only a few people who usually take the medication without stopping midway. Therefore, if you want to help, encourage them to take medication and make medication cool again.

Lastly, there is nothing as magical as one-to-one face-to-face conversation. I live for that! A good conversation can help you feel understood, appreciated and alive. It ignites every part of your stimulative body part (brain mostly). I always argue that the best way to intervene is to have a good old conversation regardless of where you are.

How shouldn’t you intervene?

There are ways you shouldn’t deal with depression. The first one is to try not to use someone's depression as an opportunity to introduce them to your God. I am a very spiritual person, but I don’t prescribe religion or lack of it as a tool to fight depression. Most of the people who are depressed need people and medication not necessarily religion.

Also, please don’t say things like “it’s all in your head” or any other equivalent nonsense.

Lastly, do not try to threaten friendships or relationships. The most obvious response to depression in Africa is aggression, especially towards suicide attempts. The police in Zimbabwe will literally beat up a corpse of a person who died through suicide by hanging. Also, if one attempts suicide and they survive, they are likely to be beaten and resented by their families than helped. It is a pity to survive suicide.

Now to the question, is suicide rational?

I think that suicide is a rational choice that should never be resented or hated. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes even if there was light, sometimes your eyes no longer work due to all the time you spent in the tunnel and the light isn’t worth it anymore. Life is not lived for life’s sake. Life is lived to fulfil the needs of the body that houses it and of the society — but if you can’t fulfil them anymore, is it worth living? Quality of life should dictate if life is worth living not the mere existence of life. Soldiers kill themselves instead of capitulating to the enemy; maybe suicide isn’t giving up, maybe suicide is victory. Maybe it is a way to retain your dignity, your quality of life and mitigate harm. If we face the truth, there are very few instances of suicide where life could’ve been better.

Suicide decision is like sex, there are many instances where it was a poor decision to engage in it but that doesn’t mean the act itself is irrational.

This doesn’t mean I support or condone or encourage people to commit suicide. As a said, depression is like cancer, if it is still curable and manageable please do by all means.

What I am doing here is advocating for empathy. Those who have committed suicide should be given all the respect they deserve in death. They should be treated humanely (not celebrated). There shouldn’t be any taboos and demeaning rituals that exist at their funeral. And society should treat them as cancer victims who succumbed to the disease. How sure are you that if you were in the exact same circumstances, same world belief and same brain, you would not have committed suicide?

How can you cope with depression?

If you are to read this post and you are wondering what you can do to be able to cope with it, you can start here:

First, you can start with medical intervention to get your life in order. At times depression can be so crippling that you cannot bring yourself to do anything. You can start by taking prescribed anti-depressants to get you to try to sort out your life. At times the medical intervention is to restore your chemical balances to start functioning again.

Also, start consuming content that is positive and gives you meaning. Try to look for content that is leaning towards the idea that the world is more meaningful than the idea that the world is meaningless. Because the nihilistic conclusion is to give up yet the meaning and purpose conclusion is to fight more.

Also, get a routine. A routine or timetable helps your life feel like you have a life plan that you are following and that will give you a lot of things to look forward to.

Lastly, try to be nice to the next person and offer some help. Being the intervener to other people facing depression will help you a lot.

(Aside: I am really, really sorry that you are going through this. I wish I could help, but I am not a qualified counsellor. But you can Google the number of an organisation called “The Samaritans” in your country and they will listen to you)

The end.

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