Did you know that depression is hereditary? If you didn’t know, you are not alone because I also didn’t know. Well actually neither did Mrs. Susan Catherine Keter who is a common face online and who is often seen dispensing great advice to people with all manner of problems ranging from financial, woman –related, relationships, to marriage.
The well put together woman is admired by many but few of them know how she has battled depression and been there to also witness family members close to her also battle the same condition.
Susan was born and brought up in Nyeri County. In fact, the mother of three young men and three young ladies lived a pretty normal life and went on to study for a Bachelor’s of Education degree at Kenyatta University. She got married and all was well until 1999 when all hell broke loose for the family! It all started when her 2-year old son got critically ill and had to undergo an emergency operation.
‘I was in the first trimester of pregnancy at the time. 7 months later, the baby was born and also had complications that necessitated an operation at birth. My health went downhill that year. I developed one health problem after another. I was on treatment for a number of health conditions before I was finally diagnosed with depression,’ said Susan.
The symptoms were twofold: physical and emotional. I was sad, discouraged, irritable and pessimistic. My physical health was bad as well. I was on treatment for high blood pressure, asthma, headaches, insomnia, backache and stomach acid.
After the diagnosis, Susan was referred to a psychiatrist from Nairobi Hospital where she had been a frequent visitor because of the various health problems. She was misdiagnosed at one time and put on treatment for bipolar disorder. Misdiagnosis can happen in such cases and having noticed that something is amiss, her husband complained to the doctor because the medication was messing her up.
‘Depression is difficult for the family. The feelings of hopelessness, pessimism and giving up wear out the loved ones. My husband, however, was supportive throughout my journey with depression, helping me to nurture my talents and even paying for me to be professionally trained,’
The turning point for Susan came up when she visited the psychiatrist and a diagnosis was made.
Treatment for depression is expensive. A visit to a consultant psychiatrist can cost anything from KShs. 3,000/- to 10,000/- or more a session. The first session is usually more expensive than subsequent visits, because of the process of diagnosing the problem. Visits can be monthly or even two times a month when one’s condition is serious.
Additionally, good quality medication can cost hundreds of shillings for a single tablet which have to be taken every day for months or even years. Behavior therapy is also charged per session and is not cheap either, considering that it is specialist service.
Susan added that treatment in government hospitals is, however, cheaper.
Her own dust had hardly settled when the couple’s second born daughter, Sarah, who was in class 7 was also diagnosed with depression.
‘It was very difficult for the family especially because I was on treatment for depression at the time. It was extremely difficult for me to cope with my daughter’s depression while dealing with my own at the same time. The entire family suffered, with the other children feeling like their sister was getting too much attention and being allowed to get away with things they could not dare do,’ said Susan.
Sarah was hospitalized then treated as an outpatient. The treatment included medication as well as behavior therapy.
Sarah was not the only person close to Susan who suffered from depression as her own mother suffered from it as well. She was successfully treated at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
As if two family members suffering from depression was not enough, the first-born daughter of the family, Sally, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She was treated with both medication and behavior therapy.
‘She had always had some struggles but we did not know what the reasons for it were until the time of history taking during our second daughter’s treatment for depression. She has learned to cope and is no longer on medication. Currently, none of us is on medication,’ explained the mother of six.
Being a Life coach
There is always a silver lining in the darkness and with this particular health, darkness party equipped her to become a life coach. Susan is now a life coach after deciding to utilize her talent for helping people to work out solutions to their problems.
‘I would refer to finding solutions to the day-to-day problems as per my brilliance. Secondly, I have extensive training and experience in the mental health field. I used to do psychoeducation then send everyone to doctors. I realized that I was not doing the right thing because doctors really don’t deal with prevention and educating people about well-balanced living. I then decided to train in life coaching and mentorship then use my brilliance to make this world a better place,’ said the life coach.
In this regard, Susan decided to undergo basic training in providing mental health services at community level. She traveled to India for the training and was also a beneficiary of an exchange tour to the US to learn about mental health services.
Reason to Hope
Susan is also a part of Reason To Hope, (www.reasontohope.or.ke) an organization that deals with mental health. They are based in Kajiado County for now, with plans to grow to expand to other parts of the country.
‘We educate the public about mental health, run family support groups, address matters of dealing with traumatic events and holistic wellness. We run a clinic at Ngong Hospital with professionals diagnosing and treating mental disorders. We have a team of therapists who provide psychological support to individuals and organizations. We run wellness centres for our members, coordinated from an online platform,’ Susan said
‘We partner with the Ministry of Health and the County government of Kajiado to empower the public about overall health and wellness. We also give our input to government efforts to streamline the laws governing mental health in Kenya,’ she added.
Susan adds that the charges for services vary but they do not charge consultation fees at Ngong clinic. Patients sometimes have to buy the medication. The organization is still exploring with Kajiado County Government to have medication provided by the government and that should happen soon.
Consultation for psychological services as well as life coaching and mentorship range from KShs. 1,500/- per session and they have included comprehensive packages too. Services for schools, churches, corporates and other groups vary too, ranging from KShs. 10,000/- onwards for psychoeducation, dealing with traumatic events, emotional wellbeing, etc.
‘We at the Reason To Hope take matters to do with finances very seriously and economic empowerment is incorporated in our programs. This is because poverty and poor mental health reinforce each other. People from deprived backgrounds are at risk of being mentally unhealthy for a number of reasons,’ said Susan.
For one, parents who can barely provide basic needs for their families are unlikely to be happy and relaxed while bringing up their children. Money struggles are a major contributor to stress in families. Secondly, people with poor mental disorders are also at risk of getting into poverty because their poor health negatively impacts productivity,’ she added,’ said Susan.
‘ I am a strong believer in everyone having a source of income and that includes stay-at-home moms, retired parents, college/university students, etc. Everyone should have a source of income even if they only work part-time from home,’ she added.
Money struggles are a major cause of stress and also conflicts in relationships. Being 100% dependent on another person robs one of bargaining power in relationships and puts one at risk of being taken advantage of or even mistreated and abused. Having a source of income is good for one’s self-esteem as well as for keeping one mentally sharp and intelligent.
According to Dr Adrian Lord, psychiatrist and medical director of the Cygnet Hospital depression is so complex it varies even in individuals, let alone between individuals.
In clinical practice, he often sees patients where there is a distinct line of depression, suicide or bipolar disorder running through one side or other of the family. ‘It can span several generations and often does not seem totally due to shared upbringing, so a genetic component does seem likely,’ he says.
Scientists have long believed that certain people are more susceptible to depression than others but have, until now, not been able to offer substantial proof.
Susan is also a blogger at For Better, For Worse; Money Management Tips For Couples