In May, about three months after the coronavirus index case was recorded in Nigeria and lockdown measures were announced across states to curb the virus spread, Peter Nnaji lost his job as a chef at one of the hotels at Lekki, Lagos.
A father of three, the sacking destabilised him greatly. He had worked for the hotel for more than a decade without enough savings to see him through the difficult times.
His wife was also unemployed; she was a housewife planning to return to the corporate world by 2021 when their last child would turn two.
“When the pandemic hit and the lockdown was imposed in March, many of us at the company were indeed afraid that the situation might affect us. You know, we operated a people-business. If people were told to stay at home, there was no way businesses like hotels could survive,” Nnaji said.
Nnaji’s fear finally came to reality in mid-May. It was a mix of shock and anxiety – not knowing where to start from, especially as the pandemic was still ravaging.
“The letter of sacking was sent via email. I woke up one Tuesday morning in May to find out I had just been relieved of my job. I looked at my wife beside me on the bed, checked on my kids in their room next to ours, then burst into tears,” he said.
“I thought of how to take care of them going forward. First, even when I was working, the salary could barely cater to my family needs. Second, there was no gratuity or compensation expected by the company. Third, my wife was unemployed, though we had planned that she would find one by 2021. I had my parents, in-laws and extended family members who also depended on me,” Nnaji added.
Before he knew what was happening, the thoughts started affecting him emotionally to the point that he resorted to excessive drinking of alcohol, hoping to find solace in it.
He said, “Really, I never thought I could be so depressed. I used to perceive myself as an emotionally strong person – always boasting that nothing could ever drive me to the point that I would allow external factors to influence me.
“But I had never been out of a job in my life since I graduated from university about 11 years ago. I studied food science and technology, and because I had always loved cooking, I decided to become a chef. I eventually got a job at a hotel at Lekki and I loved the job. Of course, the salary was good, but in a situation where you find yourself catering to many people’s needs, a good salary can never be enough.
“Seriously, I didn’t know how I got into drinking excessively to seek comfort. It was so bad that my wife had to inform my parents and our church pastor of my predicament.”
Thankfully, with proper counselling, Nnaji said he was able to get out of depression in July. Then, he thought of starting an online food business.
In the first week of posting pictures of his food company’s menu online, he realised some thousands of naira after taking orders from several people and organisations.
“I was like, ‘Had I been sleeping before? Where did I put my mind?’ Till today, I am happy I was sacked because I could see lots of opportunities now. In fact, a hotel called me two months ago to employ me but I rejected the offer. I can as well be an employer of labour. I am happy some people rescued me from my depression. I realised that the right people, not alcohol, made my escape from my difficulty possible,” he said.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression, which is characterised by a persistent sense of sadness in an individual, can lead to other diseases and injury.
Depression can permeate every aspect of a person’s life and drastically affect those around them. It often results in problems with friends and family and puts an individual at a greater risk of suicide. Some individuals can resort to smoking, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
With last week’s announcement of the Nigerian economy plunging into recession for the second time during the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), a psychologist at a private university based in Ogun State, Dr Akin Adebusoye, says many Nigerians may indeed resort to substance abuse amid the economic difficulty.
“Already, there is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused many to lose their jobs. And before the pandemic, the economy was in a bad shape, and the nominal value of personal income had been lost. An income of N100,000 five years ago perhaps has a value of N40,000 in today’s economy, considering the rising inflation, among others,” a Lagos-based economist, Mr Kola Oni, tells Saturday PUNCH.
“Hence, to say Nigerians are poorer now is stating the obvious. Companies and governments can hardly increase employees’ salaries to match the rising inflation because some of them are barely surviving too,” he adds.
With the poor economy, high unemployment rate, joblessness, and now a recession, among others, the psychologist, Adebusoye, says some Nigerians may suffer from depression, hence taking to alcohol abuse.
Heretofore, the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health in 2014 ranked Nigeria as 27th globally in respect of adults alcohol drinking, making it one of the leading African countries in alcohol consumption.
Adebusoye says, “The ranking may have increased if we did a survey today. This is because many depressed people resort to alcohol. They do so in an attempt to cope with their depression. Depressed people are usually drawn to the sedative effects of alcohol as a kind of medication, hoping it will distract them from persistent feelings of sadness.
“But from various studies, it is clear that alcohol abuse can induce major depression. The truth is, depression and alcohol have this weird relationship. This relationship can be cyclical as well, and an individual can get caught going back and forth between abusing alcohol and then using alcohol to try to quell the resulting depression. It can be an extremely challenging set of co-occurring disorders to address, and professional help is often needed.”
Below, experts cite seven reasons not to use alcohol when depressed:
It can lead to self-harm or suicide
Experts at Drink Aware, an organisation based in the United Kingdom, says alcohol can cause depressed people to lose their inhibitions and behave impulsively, and this can lead to actions they may not otherwise have taken – including self-harm and even suicide.
“There is a strong association between drinking heavily (either chronic or acute alcohol misuse) and suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death from suicide,” the experts state on drinkaware.co.uk.
It can cause more depression
For someone experiencing anxiety, a drink might help them feel more at ease, but this feeling is short-lived. The so-called ‘relaxed’ feeling somebody may say they experience after having a drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in the brain. But these effects wear off fast.
Drink Aware experts add that relying on alcohol to mask anxiety can also lead to a greater reliance on it to relax, a likely side effect of which may be alcohol dependence.
Also, the American Psychiatric Association says alcohol can lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which help regulate mood.
“Lower levels of these chemicals can make a depressed person more depressed,” they state, adding, “Alcohol temporarily cuts off the effects of stress hormones. This can exaggerate depression symptoms because it depresses the brain and nervous system.”
Other mental health problems may arise
Stress or drugs such as alcohol or cocaine can activate a gene that is linked to depression and other mental health problems. The gene can result in seizures, depression, manic-depressive episodes, and other mental problems, according to Robert Post, the Head, Biological Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Health, based in the US.
It can cause dementia
The American Psychiatric Association states that alcohol abuse can lower the levels of folic acid, and depression is most common in those with folate deficiency.
“Folic acid deficiency contributes to ageing brain processes and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,” the APA says, adding, “Alcohol disrupts sleep and alters the thought process, which can increase depression symptoms.”
It can alter thought processes
Susan Ramsey, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behaviour expert at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School in the US, says alcohol abuse can suppress activity in the part of the brain that does the heavy thinking and planning.
Hence, this may make a depressed person unable to think of how to come out of their predicament.
Alcohol abuse affects the immune system
Drinking heavily can reduce the body’s natural immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off invading germs and viruses, according to a Lagos-based medical expert, Dr Oyejide Awosiyan.
“People who drink heavily over a long period of time are also more likely to develop pneumonia or tuberculosis than the general population. Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, breast, and colon,” Awosiyan says.
“This means fighting depression with alcohol is never the answer. It rather adds to the problem,” he adds.
Heart attack is possible
Awosiyan also tells Saturday PUNCH that alcohol abuse can lead to a heart attack, which an already depressed person may not want to have.
He says, “Alcohol abuse can affect the heart and lungs. People who are chronic drinkers of alcohol have a higher risk of heart-related issues than people who do not drink.
“Some circulatory system complications arising from alcohol abuse include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, difficulty pumping blood through the body, stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and heart failure.”
Healthy coping strategies for those with depression
For those with depression, rather than resort to alcoholism, experts at the American Psychiatric Association recommend seeking ways of having long-term improvements in their mental health and well-being. Some of those alternative strategies to alcohol are as follows:
- Talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling
- Seek professional help by consulting a psychologist or others
- Keep active by exercising. Exercises have a way of relieving one of stress and trauma
- Eat healthy and nutritious foods
- Allow more time for rest and relaxation
- Try mindfulness or meditation.
In addition, a Lagos-based career coach and pastor, Bayo Philips, advises those with depression, whether as a result of the economic situation or other factors, to make and maintain meaningful social connections.
“Good connections can help a great deal to get out of depression. A good friend or colleague can link you to an opportunity or help you to do something that will brighten your mood again,” he says.
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