Munashe (not her real name) gave birth to her first child at 16, the same year she was supposed to sit for Ordinary Level national examinations in 2007. Still very young to be a mother, Munashe did not know how to tell her family. She concealed the pregnancy until she was almost due to deliver when her grandmother noticed the pregnancy.
The 28-year-old who is in second year at one of Zimbabwe’s State universities told Saturday Herald Lifestyle that she has gone through traumatic phases in her life, resulting in bouts of depression.
She was to fall pregnant again just after finishing her Advanced Level. Then she had her third pregnancy a few years on as she waited to go to university.
“I have had to conceal all my pregnancies knowing that I had disappointed my family. My first pregnancy was not as depressing as the second and third one.
“Maybe for the first one, I really was very young to think of the implications and also I took each day at a time.
“I knew I had disappointed my family and did not even know how to break the news. It was such a traumatic period for me. Going through pregnancy as a teenage mother with no clue of what was going on, so much anxiety and I was very depressed,” she recounts.
Munashe says for the first pregnancy, she would sleep most of the time as she had no one to talk to about all that she was going on. And she was depressed.
“My grandmother only noticed that I was pregnant when I was almost due. She tried not to show me how disappointed she was although I knew it, and she supported me until I gave birth.”
She says her family supported her and they did not force her into an early marriage following the first pregnancy, so after she gave birth, she sat for her O-Level examinations in 2008 and she passed.
Munashe enrolled for her A-Level in 2009 at a boarding school as her grandmother and mother took care of her son.
“Just after getting my results as I waited to enrol for university, I fell pregnant with my second child. This time it was equally depressing as I knew I had disappointed my family again even after they gave me a second chance.
“I did not know who to talk to and fearing what they will do when they found out that I was pregnant. I ran away from home and lived with a friend for almost a month. I was really depressed and did not also know how to handle this situation.
“I blamed myself for being stupid and disappointing my family again. I thought of committing suicide but then I thought of my son. What was going to be of him if I killed myself, I constantly asked myself. Just the thought of seeing him grow gave me hope and I was determined to face the consequences of what I had done. So, I went back and reunited with my family. They took me back. I gave birth and again they did not force me into marriage, so I stayed at home,” she chronicles.
Munashe now had two children to look after. With no source of income – she relied on her family for upkeep. She remembers how her family told her this time they were going to give her just the last chance to think of what she wanted to do with her life.
“As I stayed at home, pondering on my next move. Idle as I was, I fell pregnant again. Believe me this time around I had a serious bout of depression and really did not know what to do.
“This time, I really needed someone to talk to or else I was going to let depression manifest itself in whatever way. So I sought someone I could share with, someone I knew would not judge me and ask me why I had done this.
‘‘Believe me the last thing you need to hear is the why question. Because you are already blaming yourself and regretting so the why question can only add salt to the injury.
“I concealed the pregnancy again and never told anyone. I already knew what they were going to say. This secret I kept until the morning I gave birth alone and only got help when my aunt heard what sounded like a baby’s cry,” she says.
Munashe recounts how her aunt was shocked when she saw her sitting outside the house in the early hours of the morning after she had given birth on her on.
“Imagine the shock on her eyes when she saw the baby. Now I was sitting there helplessly, exhausted holding on the new-born. I was equally depressed and honestly did not care about what the next person thought at this stage.
“I was rushed to the hospital together with the baby and sadly the baby did not survive. The death of my third child worsened my misery. I had a family expecting the answers of the why, who, what yet I also had to grieve.
“This was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I blamed myself for the death of my baby, had I called for timely help and gone to a health facility maybe I could have saved my baby. I was depressed and really did not know what to do. And like always, I got support from my family and comforted me through the grief.
“I however, do not wish anyone to go through what I have experienced. I urge anyone in a depressing situation to seek help before it escalates,” she adds.
Munashe recounts how one of her cousins committed suicide after she fell pregnant at 16 and her parents who would have none of it chased her away from home.
“She gave birth unattended and hanged herself just after giving birth. This is just but another facet of the many manifestations of depression. Lives have been lost and continue to be lost due to depression.”
Munashe’s life mirrors that of several other girls who have suffered from depression due to different causes. While she is lucky to have survived the harsh manifestations of depression, she believes lives can be saved and impact of depression reduced if people seek help on time.
The depression survivor believes, the family also has a critical role to play in reducing the impact of depression.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines depression as a common mental disorder, characterised by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks.
According to WHO, people with depression normally have several of the following: a loss of energy; a change in appetite; sleeping more or less; anxiety; reduced concentration; indecisiveness; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
The Zimbabwe Psychological Association says depression is a common mental health issue in developing countries like Zimbabwe, and remains amongst one of the most undertreated conditions
“The human suffering and risk of suicide that accompanies depression makes it imperative for depression to be considered a public health threat of the 21st century. Depression is common in children adolescent and the adults so no single group is immune to it.
“There is no single cause of depression as it is believed to arise from dynamic interactions of the many causes linked to depression which are either biological or psychosocial.
“Looking at Munashe she experienced child birth which is already linked to depression coupled with her young age and circumstances it could have been very traumatic. Her perception of her family and the ensuing disappointment coupled with loss and rejection as the father of the child seems to be absent as well as her beliefs of what a good child should do all create a dynamic interaction which may have affected her.
“However, a proper assessment and subsequent intervention can only be done by competent and qualified personnel such as psychologist, psychiatrist and occupational therapist,” says a psychologist and member of Zimbabwe Psychological Association, Noreen Dari.
Dari says its time Zimbabwe accepted illnesses such as depression like any other medical condition: diabetes, cancer, fracture which needs medical attention.
“We need to encourage each other in our spaces to seek help and assist those seeking help not to feel ashamed. Depression is not a sign of failure it’s an illness and can be cured with the help of qualified practitioners such as psychologist, psychiatrist and occupational therapist.”