It is heartbreaking to wake up in the morning to a news headline like this: ‘An 11-Year-Old Girl Commits Suicide.’ Naturally, one would be worried and begin to ask questions. What really would make an 11-year-old child take her own life? Where did she get the idea from? How long did she conceive the idea? Why the thought and why such an action?
The reality is that many things could have gone wrong.
Humans, in dealing with certain challenges, sometimes decide to face their demons by ending their lives, with the wrong assumption that suicide is the only way out.
Indeed this is the problem Ghana is facing now, the outbreak of suicide deaths in our society. In the wake of this development, we have been bombarded with horrific images. We are greeted with sights of dead bodies and foamed mouths hanging in trees and above ceilings.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2021 indicated that about 700,000 people commit suicide every year globally.
Although suicide is a global phenomenon that affects all countries, WHO estimates that 77 percent of all suicide cases occur in low and middle-income countries.
In Ghana, a report by the WHO in 2020 showed that there were 1,993 suicide cases annually on average.
Apart from actual suicide, attempted suicide is also a canker, with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) estimating that 2,781 people attempted to commit suicide between 2018 and 2021.
Depression is certainly one of the root causes of suicide. According to an updated fact of the World Health Organisation (WHO, March 2017), one of the key facts of depression is: “At worst depression leads to suicide”.
What is depression?
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest. This condition can profoundly impact how individuals feel, think, and behave, leading to a range of emotional and physical issues.
Depression can vary in how intense it feels, so mental health professionals typically categorize it into three types: mild, moderate, or severe. When depression is moderate or severe, it could lead to self-harm, thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts.
What causes depression?
Researchers are still sorting out what causes depression, but we do know there’s not one set cause for depression and sometimes there is no specific or obvious reason for it. There are, however, some things that can increase the chances someone will experience it, including:
- Biology: There are chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, that directly affect your mood and how you process emotions. How brains produce and use these chemicals is different for different people, and it can increase the chance you could have depression.
- Family history: Depression can run in families and some people will be at an increased genetic risk. Having a parent or close relative with depression does not mean you will automatically have the same experience. Life circumstances and other personal factors are still likely to have an important influence.
- Childhood trauma: Growing up in a stressful environment can increase your risk of experiencing a mental health condition. Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) such as having abusive or neglectful caregivers or growing up with an adult who struggles with a mental health condition or alcohol or drug use can increase your risk of depression.
- Other health conditions: Chronic illness, chronic pain, anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among other conditions, sometimes come with depression. Other conditions, such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), can sometimes look like depression. Certain medications can also cause depression symptoms as a side effect.
- Substance use: It’s not uncommon to use alcohol or drugs to cope or self-medicate when you are struggling emotionally, but it can increase your risk of depression and make it harder to know if your treatment is working.
Although depression is treatable, WHO states that there are various barriers to the treatment of depression: lack of resources, lack of trained healthcare providers, social stigma associated with disorders, and inaccurate assessment resulting in a wrong diagnosis.
Depression is a treatable mental disorder. Affected people need to have their illness recognized and diagnosed, and appropriately treated by professionals. People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking for help can make you feel better.
Also, media organizations must set standards for their reporters on reporting public health issues such as depression and its accompanying consequences.
Awareness creation will also help others understand that suicide is avoidable and that we all can contribute in various ways to stamp out the unhealthy phenomenon.
All said and done, depression causes suicide; let’s deal with depression now.