Despite being a small motif–maybe a “sub-motif” of the American culture motif–, mental illness has been brought up in Americanah through Ifemelu’s first few years living in the U.S. and, recently, with Dike’s attempted suicide. Although Ifemelu is reluctant to admit that she has depression, “Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness,” please keep in mind that depression–among many other mental illnesses–is a real thing.
Forget everything Tumblr has told you about mental illnesses (this website has had a problem with romanticizing mental illnesses in the past, which is hella messed up). According to Psychiatry.org, depression is
“a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act . . . it can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Although I cannot say whether Nigeria is a country that openly discusses mental health/has doctors who specialize in this kind of psychology or not, an immigrant’s disbelief to an illness just because their country has lower rates of it/never identified it among those who have it is a bit irrational. According to MedPage Today, immigrants coming into the U.S. are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. The research focused on native-born Mexicans who migrated to America and, despite some who may argue that this could be an attempt at trying to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., I firmly believe this is true, such as in the case of Ifemelu.
The specific causation of depression is difficult to pinpoint. Some people have seasonal depression, they miss the sun when it’s gone and their mood starts to dampen. I hate the winter and the dreary weather, it makes me sad for four to five months and my unhappy thoughts start to increase. But other times, it’s more long-term. Sometimes it’s attributed to a genetic predisposition, too little serotonin in one’s brain, or distressing events.
What amazes me the most, though, is one’s quick reaction to denying developing depression as others sense the onset, or one’s resorting reason as depression when they feel a little down. To those of the former, never let anyone diagnose you–or even self-diagnose–but if your friends and family notice a persistent and abnormal change in your behavior and appearance (disclaimer: you can’t always point out who does and does not have depression), then it might be a good idea to consult your doctor (see symptoms here). To the latter group, please recognize the difference between short term and long term changes in behavioral patterns; depression is a serious matter.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Depression/any mood disorders are not to be joked about. 15% of those who are clinically depressed commit suicide.
With that PSA being said, I should briefly mention how to handle friends and family members with depression (among other mental illnesses). Do not tell them they have no reason to be sad, nor try to act like you understand what it’s like being physically and mentally bogged down on a daily basis. Please be patient and caring, we can’t always help them and they can’t always control how they feel. Most of all, don’t expect those who are mentally ill to apologize for it–it’s out of their control for God’s sake.