By Francis Ewherido
Yesterday was World Health Day, a day so designated and celebrated since 1950. Each year, the World Health Organisation, promoter of the World Health Day, chooses a topic to draw worldwide attention to a health issue of global importance. This year’s theme is: “Depression: Let’s talk,” and talk we are going to do. Depression is not just a global issue; Nigeria has appropriated it and many Nigerians have bought into it. Our economy (some economists say the economy is recessed not depressed), with many aspects of our national life, including the health sector, is depressed, so are many Nigerians. I am not just talking of the cases of suicide and attempted suicide, depression is all around us in one form or another. These days when you drive, you have to be extra careful and look out for people who do not look before crossing the road, people who are lost in thought in the middle of the road and drivers who run into other vehicles before the force of the collision remind them they are behind the wheels. In some offices, you knock and go in and the occupant is still not aware he/she has company, lost in his/her thoughts. We can go on and on.
Depression has given birth to children. The anger and frustration in the land are scary. An adversary can easily get you lynched in the streets by shouting, “ole, ole,” after you. Innocuous arguments lead to fisticuffs and sometimes the death of one party. There is a monumental lack of consideration for other road users. This anger has spread to churches and mosques. People, who just left the church, fight in the car park over right of way and who goes first, while some fight in the park over parking space before going into the church.
What is depression? In simple language, it is a severe loss of hope, crippling low spirit, sadness and a feeling of worthlessness. We all feel low, sad and hopeless once in a while when our pursuits end in futility, when we are bereaved, when we lose something of value, when we are unable to meet up with our financial or marital obligations or when things are not just working out. These are temporary feelings, which wear away after a while, and it is perfectly normal because we are human. But when these feelings and symptoms linger for weeks, you have a case of real depression or what the medical people and psychologists call clinical depression. The medical people happily tell us it is treatable, but where and at what cost? That is where the medical challenge of the average Nigerian begins. Health professionals tell us that, “Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.”
The decay in government healthcare institutions, which are the last hope for the average Nigerian, is numbing. The decay not only comes in form of poorly maintained and outdated healthcare equipment, but in the systems and processes. Many healthcare professionals are so used to morbidity that human life is meaningless to them. They forget that every patient who comes to the healthcare facility is somebody’s heartthrob, beloved parent, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, cousin or spouse, who is known personally and loved distinctively. The loved ones do not see him/her as part of a mass, like the medical personnel do, and so expect personalised care.
A few days ago, I was reminiscing on the defunct Nigerian Music Award, an award that was of international standard in the 90s, and a brother and friend of over 30 years, Mike Adande, lamented that “Naija sha…sustaining good things difficult here, sha.” That has been our problem. I cannot remember any good public institution or initiative, including the health sector, which has endured and grown all round over the last 30 years. I heard that the Saudi king used to come to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, in the 60s for his medical checkup. Also leaders from Southern Africa, when South Africa was isolated due to its apartheid policy, came here for medical checkup. Now Nigerians spend billions of dollars on medical treatment abroad and you cannot blame them, except the ones who put us in this mess. Check out the mortality rate of routine medical procedures like normal childbirth and malaria treatment. The only Nigerians who patronise local medical facilities for serious health issues are mainly those who cannot afford the treatment abroad.
So what happened to our health facilities? The same old story with our refineries, Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Shipping Lines, the railway, the power sector, we can go on and on. On a few visits to India, I took time to study the way their healthcare works. The difference with ours is just a conscious effort to make things work and improve their act. They have come up with systems to make topnotch healthcare, even in private healthcare facilities, affordable to the ordinary people. We have not been able to achieve that here. But they also grapple with some of the challenges we have here, like power cuts. All their healthcare facilities have standby generators, yet they are making progress.
Happily, when it comes to issues of health like depression, I believe in the 80/20 Pareto Principle. You are 80 per cent responsible for your life; you better believe, imbibe and live it. Your state of mind is as important—if not more important than—as any medi-care in avoiding, managing and treating depression. In the midst of the seeming gloom, therefore, you must choose life, choose happiness and be positive. Learn valuable lessons from disappointments, rejections, failures and betrayers, but make light of them; do not dwell on them for long, lest you lapse into depression. Find reasons within you to breathe life into your daily living. Believe in humanity, but be wary of the unreliable human nature, lest you go into depression. Be in firm control of your mind; remember that whoever controls your mind controls your life.
Do not personalise Nigeria’s problems; they can snuff the life out of you in a blink of an eye. Nigeria’s problems are everybody’s and we are all going to solve them when everybody, or at least many of us, do the right things, with the leaders in the forefront. Always remember you are 80 per cent responsible for your wellbeing, only 20 per cent is external. Eighty per cent is an excellent grade in school, so you can do excellently well with yourself sans the external environment. It is tough business, but it is achievable.
Nigerians are resilient people, but I wonder why the World Happiness Report keeps listing us among the happiest people in the world with so much anger in the air.