Postpartum depression is common after first childbirth / Photo: Reuters

By Lulu Sanga

Mary’s first childbirth in 2021 brought her face-to-face with postpartum depression. Until then, the Tanzanian woman was bubbly, caring and highly affable.

Then one day – after childbirth – Mary became withdrawn, talking to herself only on most occasions.

“I felt alone. I never wanted to pour my heart out to anyone,” she tells TRT Afrika.

Her behaviour, which was termed strange by her relatives, drew a lot of criticisms.

“My aunt said I was being rude for ignoring her and my other family members. She even asked sarcastically if I was the first woman to have ever given birth in the world.”

Mary says no one seemed to understand her. “I felt lonely, and would spend many hours on my phone. Sleeping became difficult.”

The 29-year-old later found help from a friend who had also undergone postpartum depression – a form of depression suffered by a mother following childbirth due to hormonal and psychological changes.

“My friend asked me to seek medical help. She even referred me to the doctor who had helped her overcome her condition,” Mary says,

Stress from economic pressure and daily hustle also contribute to mental health issues. Photo: Reuters

Isaac Lema, a psychologist at the Department of Health and Mental Diseases at the Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania, says sometimes people go through an episode of mental illness that they “might not have been aware of”.

Spotting the problem

Governments, non-governmental organisations, religious leaders and celebrities in Africa and other parts of the world have been advocating for mental health awareness in order to combat the problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that close to one billion people globally battle one form of mental illness or another with about 116 million people in Africa estimated to be living with mental health conditions before the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘’The social isolation, fear of disease and death, and strained socio-economic circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to an estimated 25% global rise in depression and anxiety,’’ WHO said last year.

According to the global health body, “one in every seven young people already has some kind of mental problem.”

In 2019, suicide accounted for more than one in 100 deaths and 58 per cent of suicides occurred before age 50 with mental health issues being one of the triggers, the WHO said in a report.

WHO says the impact of Covid-19 pandemic worsened risks of mental health problems. Photo: Reuters

The world body says stigma and discrimination continue to hinder the fight against mental health challenges.

“They (stigma, discrimination and human rights violations) are widespread in communities and care-systems everywhere, with 20 countries still criminalising attempted suicide,” says the WHO.

“It is advisable that every time you feel withdrawn, and are exhibiting uncharacteristic behaviour, you should seek mental health help,” Lema tells TRT Afrika.

“A healthy mind is one that can coordinate and effectively manage stress, emotions, work and other human activities,” he says.

Family history

According to the psychologist, the telltale signs of someone undergoing an episode of mental illness are, on most occasions, ignored or played down as rudeness, arrogance or hostility.

“When a highly ambitious person suddenly gives up, or when a highly sociable person withdraws abruptly, you should check up on them,” says Lema.

He also advises people to be keen on statements made by persons who appear to be going through stress, depression or anger management challenges.

“Listen keenly to what they say. Are they suggesting they would harm themselves? Are they harbouring thoughts of harming other people? Do they engage in strange outbursts? Do they get unusually anxious? Do they struggle to get sleep? If the person had lost a loved one, does his or her grief period last abnormally long.? If the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’, then there is every reason to enroll that person into a mental health clinic,” says Lema.

The World Health Organisation says about one billion people have mental health-related problems. Photo: Reuters

The psychologist says mental health “is not a weakness.” On the contrary, it is a condition which may affect anyone, and people should be open to seeking help.

Lema states that people born into families with a history of mental illness are likelier to inherit the condition at a particular stage in their lives.

Voice your problems

“Environmental factors such as the rise in food prices, debts, relationship problems, inflation and other economic crises contribute to the increase in stress levels, which trigger mental illness,” says Lema.

Doctors advise that when faced with a stressful situation, physical exercise helps a lot in relieving the body of stress.

Adequate rest from work or strenuous activities, a balanced diet, seeking a support system’s intervention, and solving problems on the go are the other measures one can take to manage mental health challenges.

“Do not let problems pile up and seek help when it is already too late,” says Lema.

Deepening commitment to mental health, reshaping environments that influence mental health and strengthening mental healthcare programmes are some of the recommendations of WHO to governments to aid in the fight against mental disorders.

TRT Afrika