I meant to put this post up last year but I was not sure I had the right words to say. But now, I know holding on to it will not make it any better, so here goes.
I was in a matatu, public service vehicle, a day after my birthday and I heard about Robin Williams a.k.a Mrs Doubtfire a.k.a Genies’s voice in Aladdin had died. Cause of death? Suicide.
The man who had defined my childhood laughter, creativity and interest in acting had been found on August 11 in his house, dead.
I was disappointed as I was shocked that someone who brought so much laughter and joy to others lives had so much tears, hurt, and depression within himself that suicide was the only option out.
Earlier on, on August 9 last year, I came across an update on my Facebook Timeline that was threatening to end two lives. T-W-O. Their own and someone else’s: her baby. This was one of many other similar updates from this friend who by the look of her words was struggling with something and the pain of it all that was weighing her down.
I am no psychiatrist and I do not know what people do at such times but I panicked. I was scared and hoped it was not true…that even in years to come, it should not be true. That suicide is a solution.
I called her, sent texts and Whatsapps text but there was no response. I contacted our mutual friends and we made it to her place only to find it locked. Fortunately, I have gotten communication that they are both okay (they still are fine to date) but at the back of mind I have a fear that this is something that needs to be addressed. Now. Not tomorrow. Not a week later but now.
Suicide is not freedom. It’s a cry for help that always comes too late. Suicide, depression and other mental issues are barely understood. In fact, most times after a suicide, people would say: But what was bothering them? Dint they look fine? Couldn’t they just stop those depressing thoughts from coming into their heads? It is all in the mind…don’t think it.
Clearly, there is a profound misunderstanding about the nature of mental illness and the hope that with money and fame you shouldn’t be depressed…if anything, you should be the healthiest person around. Depression is an illness that descends upon people irrespective of whether they are funny, as Williams was, or successful or beautiful or any other adjective that describes the people we know.
You and I too, could be depressed.
As a journalist, I have discovered that reporting on deaths, accidents, and suicide is difficult as it is necessary.
And I may not admit it but at times, stories that I do get into me. They change my mood, they make me question so much I have known about humanity and a lot more. As journalists, we are told not to be attached to a story, to our sources etc. But, this is not possible. It is a constant juggle of thoughts and when I get back home, I try to block these things out, I try to talk about them with my family and friends and try to move on. But, it is not easy.
Writing about suicide is a matter that unless it involves a prominent person, it is something that is discussed as a by-the-way matter. Barely would people be interested to do a follow up of the cause of suicides around them mainly because of the trauma, shame and lack of information on the issue.
Depression and suicide are the shadows that lurk around us every day, they are constant battles that our brains are pushing hard to keep at bay so that we do not crumble and give up and die out. A constant battle.
Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon knows this too well. He is urging governments to invest in and support young people with mental health conditions. This comes as about 20 per cent of the world’s young people (about 280 million) experience a mental health condition each year according to a UN report.
“Let us begin to talk about our mental-health in the same way we talk about our overall health. The United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence,” the UN head said during the observance of International Youth Day which is marked each year on August 12.
It is not surprising that last year’s slogan was ‘Mental Health Matters.’
Still in my research, I discovered that, apparently it is now possible to predict who had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide just by a blood test, researchers say.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed a genetic modification may be able to predict suicide risk.
The scientists from took samples of brain tissue from mentally ill, healthy people and from people who had died from suicide. They discovered a chemical (methylation) released by the brain in response to stress has the effect of managing the strain of everyday life so that it does not turn into suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The research, which was about 80 per cent accurate, noted that in some groups, lower levels of the human gene (SKA2) were associated with people who had committed suicide. The SKA2 helps to instruct a region of the brain that controls negative thoughts and impulsive behaviors. Thus an abnormal version of the gene means the brain will have trouble keeping at bay stress hormones.
Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said: “With a test like ours, we may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.”
I hope that this test works and soon it will be able to correctly prescribe drugs to tackle depression as it is for Malaria and other infections. I hope it works and it is made available in the country as more and more, we hear and read about a police officer who in rage killed his wife, at times children, and himself.
We hear of fathers who kill their children because ‘Life was too hard’ or of the recent case that a man, allegedly, killed his three beautiful children, his wife and jumped on an oncoming bus. The whole family ended in a span of one week. The deaths were blamed on a cult but information about the guy point out at a depressed man, who locked himself away from the world as we know it and immersed himself into a church.
Mental health is an issue that we should all be involved in. The loss of a friend, sister or brother or a relative is heartbreaking. If it is through suicide, it affects many more as there will be the guilt that perhaps, if you would have been there often maybe, it would have made a difference. It certainly would. It will be so much better, if we understood what depression is, what it can lead to and how we can be true friends by genuinely seeking to be there for our friends and relatives. It will be even better, if we stopped judging those among us who are battling depression and seek help for them from people who know how to address these medical concerns.
I am still looking for ways to help my friend. To help myself as well. I am reading about it and talking to people who can help her stay afloat. It is little, it is scary but I think it is necessary. I should do it. If I can, I will do more.
As Robin Williams’s said: “Now we have to adjust to the realities of miracles. We can hide behind the veil of science and say it was the drug that failed or that the illness itself had returned…The reality is we don’t know what went wrong any more than we know what went right.”