HEALTH: How to tackle clinical depression

Rev. Father Francis Ngungu, the Priest in charge of the diocesan Kwa Vonza Parish. PHOTO/Courtesy.

A Kitui Catholic Diocesan priest has encouraged Kenyans to combat clinical depression.

Reverend Father Francis Ngungu, the Priest in charge of the diocesan Kwa Vonza Parish and a psychological counselor, said that it is an undeniable fact that life is full of ups and downs.

“Sometimes this fluctuation could be day by day, week by week,” Fr Ngungu added. 

He said that the nice feelings and bad feelings that are experienced in life now and then are caused by different situations.

The cleric was speaking to the media in his office, recently.

He said poor interpersonal relationships in the family, workplace, school and normal setbacks like continued criticism from others, prolonged abuse, or fatigue, are believed to be the genesis of these personal experiences commonly known as the blues.

At times people may use the word depression to describe feeling down, unhappy and unmotivated.

People feel like that now and then for a few hours or days.

Clinical depression otherwise is a major depression which is much more serious and disabling than the simple mood swings described above, Fr Ngungu said.

“Clinical depression is a mental condition marked by changes in mood, thought and behavior.

It affects people of all ages, skin colour, socio-economic classes and cultural groups,” he said.

“It can occur at any age, but the illness most often surfaces between the ages of 25 and 44. Research the world over shows that depression occurs more in women than in men,” the psychological counselor said.

He added that the World Health Organisation believes that more than 300 million people worldwide now live with depression.

It is one of the major causes of severe suffering in the world and contributes greatly to global burden of disease.

The world losses billions of dollars per year because of the disability depression causes to populations, the priest said. 

On March 11, 2011, Daily Nation reported that clinical depression tops the chats of Kenya’s mental health problems with the latest research indicating that as many as four million Kenyans may be mentally ill.

“If this was a physical disease it would alarm the  medical fraternity enough to call for action. Yet depression continues to silently torment these millions of Kenyans,”  the paper quoted Prof David Ndetei of the Nairobi University as saying.

It reported that one in every ten Kenyans is depressed enough to commit suicide.

The sad part of clinical depression story in Kenya is that very little is known about it by the general public as well as among medical practitioners.  

Due to this pervasive ignorance, it largely goes undiagnosed and untreated leaving sufferers to wrestle with it for much or all their lives unaided, the clergyman said. 

How does depression present? Or what are the observable signs or symptoms of depression?  

The following story tries to answer this question by illustrating how depression may look like in the victim’s real life.
“Maria, a single lady aged 30 years has for the last six weeks been finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning for work. She has been feeling quite tired and nowadays describes her sleep pattern as disturbed.

She wakes up at night and cannot get back to sleep until daybreak.

Maria has for many years been playing volleyball because it is fun and a way of keeping physically fit.

She has not been to the scheduled practice sessions for several weeks now citing loss of energy and lack of her usual enthusiasm.

Her boss is concerned about her productivity and lateness at work these days.

Her friends and parents are getting worried.

It is clear to all who know Maria that she has lost interest in things she usis seriously thinking of leaving her complaining of her sudden loss of interest in intimacy and closeness.  

He was quite frustrated during their last encounter because Maria hardly talked the whole time and could hardly keep eye contact.

This was out of character for her.

It is like she was pushing herself to be with him.

She too did not seem interested in eating her favorite serving of chips and sausages, confiding in her fiancée that her mother has been complaining about her poor appetite, the cleric added.  

“After contacting several of her friends suspecting that Maria could be dumping him, they told him that she has been like that in all situations lately.

He was confused by the unexplained disappearance of her love for pleasure and fun.

Maria has exhibited other unusual behaviors in the last one month. 

Sometimes she weeps for no apparent reason and tends to isolate from people. 

She shocked her mother one day after reading a newspaper story about a man who committed suicide.

She told her that a thought to do what that man has done has crossed her mind a number of times.

Since she began to notice and experience these changes, family members also have commended that she sleeps poorly and that she has been talking of how worthless and a pain life is.

Maria blames herself for the problems between her mother and father without any justifiable reason. 

She has deep seated feelings of being dirty and worthless and an insatiable need of forgiveness from God despite being assured by her pious mother that she has done more in repentance than is required by her faith.”

Fr Ngungu said that any skilled mental health practitioner would diagnose Maria with clinical depression also known as major depression.

“For depression sufferers like Maria, the experience could be cycling. In other words, coming and going over a period of time. 

For others, it is a single episode lasting for a while and for others the duration with the symptoms is as long as they can remember,” the cleric added. 

Some people could be genetically predisposed for depression. This is why it runs in families and so it is good for the sufferers to check their family tree to see if a male or female relative once had or continues to have symptoms.

Quite a number may be depressed because of a substance they are abusing for example alcohol or prescribed drugs they are using, Fr Ngungu said.

“Others may be due to what may be termed as social environment like relationships, work place issues, life disappointments, sickness and so on.  

Postpartum depression is a special type of depression that affects some women during pregnancy and for days or weeks after delivery,” he said.

According to him, in the developed world, mental health services exist alongside physical health services in the health care delivery systems.

“This is where we are aspiring to be as a country but not yet fully there.

Information on mental health illnesses and available remedies ought to be spread and availed alongside physical medical problems.

Time has come for us to have awareness campaign.

The counselor said that depression can be debilitating and can make one’s life a huge burden as well as that of loved ones.

“It can lead to job loss, marital and relationship discord and even death through suicide. 

Just as is the case with other diseases, Kenya losses millions or possibly billions of shillings every year in form of service not rendered by depression sufferers.

The losses are compounded by hospital commitments and drugs administered to them as a result of their condition being misdiagnosed or confused with other illnesses,” Fr Ngungu added.

“The happy part about the depression story everywhere today is that it is a treatable illness.

There are proven ways of addressing it which work. There are drugs that can be given to the sufferer by a qualified medical practitioner,” he said.

“There is also counseling or psychotherapy for treating clinical depression,” Fr Ngungu said, adding that the best treatment outcomes most of the times are achieved through use of both medication and psychotherapy or counseling.

Depending on the cause and severity of the depression, it can be fully brought to full remission or it can recede enough to allow the sufferer to function fairly satisfactorily in many areas of life, he said.

“So depression is real and help is possible. Refuse to be told that it is all in your head that all you need to do is to pull yourself together and move on,” he said.

“Those telling you so take depression as a case of weakness of your will or your faith. This is simply not true,” the priest added.  

“The diagnosis tool he used is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM5),” he further said.

Fr Ngungu is the former rector/principal of the Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Mwingi, Kitui County.

He was ordained as a priest in1990.

Fr Ngungu holds a masters degree in Counseling Psychology from the Western Illinois University in the United States of America. He began counseling in 2011. He can be reached through 0702115797/0754500813 or

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