The last few weeks have been eventful globally in terms of suicide deaths among celebrities. One common denominator across these deaths has been depression. Kate Spade, the celebrity bag designer and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain of CNN, both battled with clinical depression which may have contributed to their eventually committing suicide. So our team at Flying Doctors Nigeria have chosen to use this period to enlighten our esteemed readers on depression and suicide.

Depression is a common illness worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are affected. In 2017, WHO used the occasion of the World Health Day to draw attention to this condition, with the theme ‘Let’s talk Depression’

In a collaborative study by the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank, it was reported that as much as 22% of Nigerians have depressive symptoms.  These symptoms have adverse economic and psychological effects on the individual. A look at the recent rising trend in suicides rates can be related to this. This is closely captured in the info-graphic below:

Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Depression can be mild, moderate or severe. When severe and of long duration, it may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family.

Severe depression can lead to suicide. Unfortunately, as much as up to 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds. It is important to note also that depression is significantly higher among this age group.


Depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors. People who have gone through adverse life events like unemployment, bereavement, psychological trauma; are more likely to develop depression.

There is also a known relationship between depression and physical health. For instance, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa.


Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild Depression, the patient may have difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities, but will probably not cease to function completely. In severe depression, the patient may have severe limitation in coping with social life, work, or domestic activities.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or having a low mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Some medical conditions (e.g. thyroid problems, a brain tumour or vitamin deficiency) can mimic symptoms of depression so it is important to rule out general medical causes.


A diagnosis of depression is only made after symptoms have been present for two weeks or longer. Depression can also be found commonly as a major component of other illnesses like Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD). People with BAD suffer long periods of severe depression alternating with periods of extreme excitement (mania).


Depression can be treated effectively. Treatment options include psychotherapy, anti-depressant medications and Electroconvulsive therapy. Treatment to be given is best determined by psychiatrists; doctors with expert skills in management of mental health disorders. The treatment plan when set out can be administered by a team of psychiatrist, mental health nurses, and clinical psychologists.

Credits: WHO Fact Sheet on Depression, World Bank, Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics


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