What it looks like when depression strikes your friend - Daily Nation

What it looks like when depression strikes your friend

Saturday September 8 2018

How do your know your bubbly but irritable friend is mentally ill? And what do you do to help them out of it? PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

How do your know your bubbly but irritable friend is mentally ill? And what do you do to help them out of it? PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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“I think my time on this world is over. I hv been through enough but am done. For those who. Knows me well msikose kukam kunisika iwapo mwili wangu utapatikana. Niliwapenda nyoote lakini Mungu akanipenda sana. RIP GERALD MWANGI NGIMA.”


This is the suicide message that 29-year-old Gerald Mwangi from Ngano, Nyahururu, posted on his Facebook timeline on June 20, 2018 at 10:43am.

Gerald, who was popularly known as Saning’o, also posted five photos that portrayed him as jovial. After posting this message, Gerald reportedly stayed online for about five hours, most likely reading through the comments that his Facebook friends made on his post.

A good number of the comments were riddled with jokes and mockery. At around dusk, Gerald switched off his phone.

The following morning, reports started spreading that he had committed suicide. Nyandarua West OCPD Sylvester Githungo revealed that Gerald had been at his home in Ngano for some days before he went back to Nairobi where he committed suicide. As the news spread, his friends, acquaintances, and general Facebook users camped on his timeline to express remorse, regret, and even mockery.

Today, the post has attracted over 4,000 comments, over 1,500 ‘Likes’ and has been shared close to 1,000 times.

Gerald is one among the growing number of people who are being pushed to death by suicide by depression. Over the past one week, a comedian with a local vernacular radio station and a former administrator of the popular Kilimani Mums and Dads Facebook group ended their lives through suicide. But many more ordinary and popular people continue to come down with depression across the world.


Depression has no limits on who it affects. Take Anthony Bourdain, the show host of the award-winning CNN travel and food series known as ‘Parts Unknown’.

He died by suicide in June after suffering from bouts of depression, despite what many people perceived as his fancy and fulfilling lifestyle.

Cases of depression in Kenya are on the rise. For example, a 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders Global Health Estimates’ says that Kenya has the fourth highest number of depressed people in Africa. In 2016, 1.9 million Kenyans suffered from problems that were related to depression.

This was an 18 per cent increase in depression cases since 2005.

One of the biggest effects of depression is suicide. A 2013 study that was conducted by Africa Mental Health Foundation titled ‘Suicidality and Depression Among Adult Patients’ found out that on average, one out of 10 patients admitted in general medical facilities in Kenya due to depression will have suicidal symptoms.

Globally, close to 800,000 people die annually due to suicide, which is also the second leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29 years. The 2017 WHO report singles out poverty and unemployment as the major factors that contribute to depression.

Other factors are physical illness, life events such as death of a loved one and drug abuse. Also, 75 per cent of people who die as a result of suicide come from lower and middle income societies. “More women are affected by depression than men and the prevalence varies by regions,” says the report.

Cate Mukei, a Military and Diplomatic Sales Market Advisor at Volvo Cars, Sweden, successfully battled with depression and suicidal thoughts for three years.

“I knew I had depression in 2015 when I worked as a journalist at one of the main media houses in Kenya. I was at the peak of my career as a journalist. But I think my depression had been building up for two years,” says Cate, who is also a blogger.

One day, she collapsed at work and called a friend to take her to hospital. “I thought that I was dying. But when I got to the hospital, the doctors told me I was fine, and just dismissed me as tired.” This went on for almost five months. She was on and off work.


She would get irritated easily and shout a lot. “I started spending a lot of time alone or with very few people that I felt comfortable around. I lost weight and friends. I stopped enjoying things that I previously loved doing,” she says.

Apart from her close friends who suspected that something was wrong, everyone else thought she was weird. “I remember an acquaintance of mine describing me as ‘special’ in a negative way.” As depression took a toll on her, Cate started to contemplate suicide. “I came close in Mombasa while on holiday when I tried to drown myself in a pool. It was a painful trial, perhaps because I’m a coward. It takes a lot of courage to commit suicide,” she says.

After three years of struggling to overcome her depression, Cate decided to change her lifestyle. “It was on December 31, 2015. I had tried pretty much everything. The most irritating thing for me was the blurry vision and nausea. In fact, at some point, I thought that I had cancer.

Then after doing research online, I discovered the gym, which became my pathway from depression,” she says. “I can’t live without the gym. I have also learned to vent out and share my struggles abroad through my blog.”

Cate’s sentiments are echoed by Dr. Chris Hart, a psychologist based in Nairobi, who says that it is only an extremely few people who will commit suicide on impulse.

“People who commit suicide usually have triggers that have been brewing for some time waiting to go off. They will seem happy and lead seemingly normal and happy lives. But inside, they will be struggling with stress and depression,” he says. This makes it very difficult to spot a man on his way to committing suicide. “Someone looking to commit suicide is hard to identify. Everything about them will look right until the very last moments when they engage in illogical activities,” he says.

Dr. Hart says that a depressed person may not have the thought of committing suicide moments or hours before he or she does it, until something happens that sets the suicidal trigger off. “They may have been stressed but not thinking about suicide. Then something happens that tips them over. It could be a remembrance of an event, a word from a friend, a thought or even sight,” he says. For example, it seemed that Gerald hardly received a helping hand, despite staying online for hours after posting his suicide note. This is because he was considered playful, comedian, and a dramatist.

Looking back, Cate says that depression has become so hard to point out because it is perceived as a first world disease. “There is a lot of ignorance and selfishness around depression.

It does not help either when friends or family mock victims of depression by telling them to man up or treating them as if they have been bewitched. This creates seclusion which ultimately pushes them over the cliff,” she says.


Ken Munyua, a psychologist based in Nairobi says that you must never ignore any messages that involve suicide.

“At the very end, it is likely that there will be key hints that are often singled out once a suicide has taken place. These will include talks about death, anti-social tendencies, excessive maniac behaviours, and intentional bodily harm,” he says.

You should also look out for extreme changes. “Raise the red flag when your friend or acquaintance makes radical changes such as refusing to go to work, church, or attend family obligations,” says family therapist Grace Kariuki. “Depressed expressions will also include the belief that everyone is against your friend, crying spells, self-hatred and condemnation.”

This is supported by Munyua, who says that your friend will think that their challenges and expectations are insurmountable.

“They will also feel that those around them are unappreciative, and that they should just leave them alone. This will be compounded when family and friends talk of them as being useless or saying that no one will notice, care, or even feel bad if they die,” he says.

One of the key mistakes you must not make is to tell your friend head on that they have depression. “Do not tell your friend that you know they have depression. Instead, identify your concern and behaviours that have led to your concerns,” says Grace.

If you feel that your friend could be suicidal, she says that you can gently ask them what they have been thinking about doing to solve or get rid of their problem. “If you are close to them and find out that they are actively suicidal, do not leave them alone. Try and keep things that they could use to end their lives away from them,” she says.

From her experience, Cate says that instead of encouraging your depressed friend to visit religious places, you should urge them towards a professional. “Don’t give up on them even if they avoid you or push you away. Do not gossip about them. Respect that they are sick, and not weird,” she says.


This is echoed by Munyua, who says that the long-term solution is psychiatric and psychological support. “You will also do well to suggest that they change their environment in a bid to get rid of any memories that might be fueling the depression,” he says. This will also require you to be ready to walk with them through their journey out of depression.

“The process of healing calls for regular and consistent support from the practitioners involved.” Also, WHO recommends that psychosocial treatments are effective for mild depression. “Antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for moderate to severe depression but are not the first line of treatment for cases of mild depression. They should not be used for treating depression in children,” adds the report.

Despite your efforts to get your friend or loved one out of the woods, they may still end their lives by suicide. In such an eventuality, Deborah Serani, a psychologist and the author of Living with Depression, says that you must hold very tightly to the fact that you aren’t responsible for their death in any way.

This is what will allow you to grieve and heal properly. “Do not set a grieving timeline. You’ll face setbacks and take time before you find a place to rest your sadness and loss, and even more time before you can envision certain possibilities such as love and friendships again,” she says. You may also seek professional help if it gets too tough, or join a support group.

“Do not fail to reach out to your family and your other friends, or abandon your health,” she says.