For most of my childhood I lived in a village a short distance from Thika town. During those years, I remember the only deaths being those associated with old age; not even accidents or murders attributed to any mortalities in our village. Fast forward to today and though I have moved away from my parents’ home, I get death reports every one or two months. What’s even more surprising is the fact that most of the victims are young and their deaths were total surprises.
A common trend
All these recent deaths have one common factor; depression. This is why almost all the victims died due to high blood pressure and other related complications. Other regions in Kenya are reporting the same situations where killer diseases such as HIV and Malaria are no longer the leading causes of mortalities.
In urban areas the problem is even worse since in addition to emotional issues, there are other problems such as unhealthy diets and lack of exercise. All these problems compounded have resulted in a society that is battling high blood pressure in people of every age and gender.
So, what has changed from 10 years ago when most deaths resulted from old age to today where grandparents are outliving their grandkids?
- Social pressures – As the country becomes more industrialised and urbanised, there is pressure for everyone to attain a certain standard of living. Those who are unable to achieve these standards ultimately succumb to depression.
- A materialistic society – This is a problem that has mostly affected young people. They have grown up in a society that demands for material wealth over spiritual, social and emotional growth. Falling short of the set material-oriented goals leads to stress.
- Economic and political challenges – It is true that we have come a long way from the days when former President Moi was in power; however, some new economic and political challenges have risen. Unemployment rates are rising and inflation has become the norm. In terms of politics, we are seeing more division than we have ever seen in a decade. All these factors have rippled down to people’s pockets where financial challenges translate into depression.
- Lack of proper treatment – In Kenya, depression has yet to be understood properly. Many assume that victims will just snap out of it any time they feel like. On the contrary, depression is just like any other illness; it requires diagnoses and proper treatment. Unfortunately this is not possible in a country that is still fighting against high rates of HIV/Aids and increasing Malaria prevalence.
- Breakdown of social support systems – It used to be that a few years back, pastors, teachers and other ‘dependable’ figures could be sought for advice on certain issues. The church, school and even local government systems were more in touch with people’s needs. Therefore, anyone who had a problem did not deal with it solo. Today, the church is full of money and sex scandals while teachers have left kids to the wild. Local political leaders are caught up in their own greed of money and power. The breakdown of these systems have left everyone to fend for themselves and the result of this is very evident in the spiking cases of stress-related health complications and deaths.
- Family breakups – Family problems are among the leading causes of depression. The rising cases of divorce and family violence attest to the damage that has been done to this holy institution. Without a loving family everyone including the kids and parents dissolve into mental breakdown.
Is there any hope?
Of course there is always hope? The only problem is that the solution may not be as quick in coming. We need to unite people together again and rebuild what we had a decade ago. At the basic level, families need to come closer, communities have to start repairing the fabric that held everyone together and local governments have to once again become the people’s government. At higher levels, economic improvements and better national governance would go a long way in giving everyone hope again; hope that everything will be better and hope that no one is ever alone.