At the height of his battling depression, Mr Olakunle Oladejo (not real name) said he could literally hear voices whispering to his ears to jump into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge.
For months, Oladejo, a mechanical engineer at one of the engineering firms at Lekki, Lagos, said he battled to suppress the voices telling him that all was over and to commit suicide.
If he had not got support from family and friends, as well as church members, the 43-year-old father of two said he might have succumbed to the pressure weighing him down.
It all started sometime in 2016 when Oladejo was introduced into an oil and gas importation business by two friends. Obviously, the business initiative by his friends was captivating and the mechanical engineer could not resist investing in it. Together, they were to raise N150m for the new venture.
Oladejo said, “I practically emptied my bank account to get N10m. Then, I borrowed N40m from the bank, friends and family members to realise my own part of the capital, which was N50m.
“My friends were in Port Harcourt and they were quite familiar with the Niger Delta terrain; they were to raise the remaining N100m. When I got my N50m, I sent it to them.”
That day when he reached home in the Ogudu area of Lagos, Oladejo said he was already anticipating that within two weeks, they would have invested in the business and within six months, he would get a profit of at least 150 per cent from it.
“I was already showing my wife the new BMW car and a house I would buy from the profit. I was expecting her to be happy, but she struggled to be. She simply told me to let the profit be realised first,” he said.
As if his wife had a premonition that the business would flop, Oladejo said he waited endlessly in vain to get feedback from his friends two weeks after sending N50m.
To his amazement, the phone numbers of his friends no longer went through. Emails were not responded to. Also, contacts could not be made on social media. Oladejo was getting unsettled.
By the time he knew what was going on, the mechanical engineer realised he had been “scammed” by his friends. It was after involving the police in the matter that his friends said they invested the money in the business but it flopped.
“They explained they were swindled, too. I had to travel frequently to the state during the crisis, but all my efforts were to no avail,” Oladejo said.
Two years after the incident, the engineer said it got to a point he was driving to and fro work via the Third Mainland Bridge and would be contemplating suicide.
He said, “The voices telling me to jump into the lagoon became stronger towards the end of 2018. I would hear words like, ‘Dejo, you owe N40m, you can’t repay it. Jump into the lagoon and end it all. You can’t pay back when dead.’
“I used to cry every time this occurred. It was like I was losing myself. The thought of turning my wife to a widow and my children to fatherless kids probably helped. In addition, I later sought help from professional counsellors.
“Although I am still in debt, I am hopeful I will pay all. I have already pleaded with my lenders, including those who threatened to arrest me and seize some of my assets, to be patient with me. I am paying back gradually.”
From Oladejo’s conversation with our correspondent, it was evident he had been able to suppress the voices telling him to commit suicide.
“I just want to be strong for my family’s sake. It’s not the end of life,” he added.
Depression in Nigeria
According to an April 2018 study by the Mind, Behaviour and Development Unit of the World Bank, about 22 per cent of Nigerians, amounting to 40 million people, are chronically depressed.
The study looked at the first nationally representative estimates of chronic depression in the country to shed light on how it might be linked to economic outcomes.
The Washington, DC, United States-based institution said depression was associated with factors such as conflict and socioeconomic factors.
It added that depression, especially at the chronic stage, could have negative consequences.
Battling depression naturally
According to the Harvard Medical School, depression is not only hard to endure, it is also a risk factor for heart disease and dementia – which is why persons going through it should seek help to come out of it.
“Depressive symptoms can occur in adults for many reasons. If you are experiencing mood or cognitive changes that last more than a few weeks, it’s a good idea to bring this up with your doctor or consult a mental health specialist to help sort out possible causes,” an instructor in psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, Dr Nancy Donovan, said.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Mr Oladotun Adeyemo, identified some natural ways of coping with depression.
Try to have fun
Adeyemo said, “Depression is characterised by sadness and makes people lose interest in what gives them pleasure. Still, one of the things a depressed person can do is to schedule pleasurable activities for themselves.
“If they love going to the movies, watching live bands, visiting people, attending religious programmes and so on, they should try to still go for such pleasurable activities. This is a way out of depression when it is at a mild stage.”
Also, in an article posted on healthline.com, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Programme at the University of California, Los Angeles, US, Dr Ian Cook, said depressed people should make time for things they enjoy.
“When you’re depressed, you can lose the knack for enjoying life. You have to relearn how to do it. In time, fun things really will feel fun again,” he said.
Move your body
Adeyemo said, “Physical activities like exercise can also help a depressed person feel good. This can be termed ‘feel-good’ therapy. It is important.”
Cook also said, “Exercise temporarily boosts feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Regular exercise seems to encourage the brain to rewire itself in positive ways. You don’t need to run marathons to get a benefit. Just walking a few times a week can help.”
American psychiatrist who researches into natural treatments for depression, Dr Lissa Rankin, advised depressed people to engage in meditation, saying it could help shift the mood from negativity to positivity.
“Meditation’s effects on mood are well-documented. Settling your mind can lift your mood, in addition to a whole host of other health benefits,” she wrote in Psychology Today.
Also, Adeyemo said, “There are mind relaxation techniques for depressed persons like just closing their eyes and having a deep breath. This can bring a whole lot of relief.”
Set daily routine and goals
According to Cook, setting a daily routine and goals can help depressed people have their lives back.
He said, “Setting a daily schedule can help you get back on track.
“When you’re depressed, you may feel like you can’t accomplish anything. That makes you feel worse about yourself. To push back, set daily goals for yourself.”
Don’t skip meals
Losing appetite and skipping meals are all the results of depression, but experts said skipping meals could reduce blood sugar level which could have serious health implications.
Cook and Rankin advised people with depression to eat healthy foods, especially serotonin-enhancing foods because they act as anti-depressants.
“Although it’s not definitive, there’s evidence that foods with omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna) and folic acid (such as spinach and avocado) could help ease depression,” Cook said.
Meanwhile, Rankin cautioned depressed people against taking caffeine because “it reduces serotonin levels.”
Challenge negative thoughts
Cook said, “In your fight against depression, a lot of the work is mental – changing how you think. When you’re depressed, you leap to the worst possible conclusions.
“The next time you’re feeling terrible about yourself, use logic as a natural depression treatment. It takes practice, but in time you can beat back those negative thoughts before they get out of control.”
Rankin advised depressed people to see a therapist, psychiatrist or life coach to express how they feel.
“Sometimes, just finding someone you trust who will help you work through your feelings can make all the difference in the world,” she said.
Buttressing the point, Adeyemo said when it got to a level when a depressed person was losing sleep and not interacting with people as they used to, they should seek professional help.
He also cautioned against stigmatisation of people in depression.
He said, “Imagine people asking someone in depression, ‘Are you the only one facing problems?’ Of course, the person can be the only one because their coping mechanism might be different from others.”
Also, Adeyemo said people in depression should seek help from professionals and not just from anyone.
He said, “There is a difference between what a professional will do and what a pastor or imam will do. A cleric will probably counsel and pray while a professional will employ scientific techniques.
“We as a people should also understand depression symptoms so as to assist depressed people. People are battling with depression and we can help by reaching out to them before they totally break down.”