Losing her seven-year-old son, Marcus, and fighting an ongoing battle with depression in resource-scarce Tanzania, was the impetus for Belinda Nyapili to set up her NGO.
Her first-hand experience of the limited resources allocated by the government to cope with depression led to her establishing the Marcus Mwemezi Foundation, named after the son she lost. Its main focus is to support mothers, and all people, in need of mental health assistance.
Several international studies have found that major depression is on the rise among young people. So unbearable was the loss of her child, that she attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. But she was saved as destiny had other plans for her — to help others in a similar situation. “I used to hear voices telling me that I, too, had to die as I could not afford to live without my son,” Nyapili said.
The Marcus Mwemezi Foundation offers a non-judgemental platform to discuss depression, share helpful tips and exchange ideas. It hosts regular workshops and seminars.
“Another culprit that causes mental health challenges including depression is the huge demand that life places on people as they struggle to survive. We are also a society that is detached from human interaction as we are caught up in our own little worlds. There is a lack of community. If you don’t reach out to other people and have real meaningful conversations, you are at higher risk,” she says.
“Also, in our culture, it is very hard to find people talking openly about depression as it is taboo to speak about your feelings openly. But the thing with depression is that it is an illness like any other which needs proper treatment and practical interventions.”
Nyapili notes that depression during teen years comes at a time of great personal change, when boys and girls are forming an identity apart from their parents. Usually, teens are grappling with gender & sexuality issues, and are making independent decisions for the first time in their lives.
“Depression in adolescence frequently co-occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders and/or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide,” she says.
Her advice to young people is to seek help and, if need be, to get treatment early and to speak openly about their feelings, fears and anxieties.
“Remember that positive thinking and leading an active healthy lifestyle will replace negativity,” she advises.