From 40 sedatives a day, how depression almost led her to suicide

Monday October 22 2018

For Latif, family and friends intervened in

For Latif, family and friends intervened in time the reason she is alive today. Seeking help when depressed is key. PHOTO BY ESTHER OLUKA 

By ESTHER OLUKA

“I accepted to marry him because I was young and naive,” says Shamin Latif, who married her husband when she was only 17 years old. He was 26.

The marriage took place in 1991 during Latif’s Senior Four vacation. Her parents who lived in Kabale District did not approve of the marriage and thought their daughter was still young and needed to first finish school. Upon realising the rift he had caused within the family, her husband registered her at St Mary’s College, Rushoroza in Kabale District, the same school Latif had completed her O-Level from.

She was happy that her husband cared this much and immediately after completing her Senior Six exams, she purposed to be a good wife. She settled down and went on to have three children. However, along the way, Latif says her husband’s character changed from pleasant to ugly.

“He started taking me for granted. He would beat me and go out with other women and on some occasions, he would not return home,” she says. This forced Latif to abandon their home and seek refuge at her parents’ home together with her three daughters. One day, her husband, forcefully made his way into the home and left with two of their children, leaving Latif with the youngest who was only five months old at the time.

When the child was one year old, he also forced Latif to give her up and when this happened Latif says she realised that her marriage of nine years had collapsed.
This took a toll on Latif who resorted to relying heavily on sedatives to cope with the misery and pain she was going through.

The overdose
To block the pain, she would buy Phenobarbitone, a sedative, from different pharmacies in Kabale Town to help her sleep. “It was easy getting the medication because even without a prescription, I would just go and ask any pharmacist and they would give me the tablets without raising any questions,” she says.

Latif started buying the sedatives in 2000. At first, she swallowed two tablets on a daily basis. However, she increased the dosage to 20 in a day. She would swallow 10 in the morning and 10 just before going to bed.
Over time, her parents noticed a drastic change in their daughter. Latif’s elder brother, who visited the family occasionally also realised there was something wrong with his sister.
She was losing a lot of weight, was always sleepy and upon waking up, she would burst into tears. Her brother later realised that the money the family had been giving her for her upkeep was what she was using to buy the sedatives.
“I was very depressed. All I could think of were my children whom I had not seen for three years. And whenever I attempted to visit them, my husband would threaten to kill me,” she recalls.

The signs
Dr Harriet Birabwa, a psychiatrist at Butabika Mental Hospital, says depression is one of the psychotic disorders associated with suicidal tendencies. Some of the factors that trigger depression include relationships gone sour, loss of a job, terminal illnesses, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce and lack of social support, among others.
Some of the symptoms that may manifest in a depressed person include loss of sleep, appetite, fatigue, neglecting responsibilities and experiencing inappropriate guilt, among others. These symptoms may persist for two weeks or longer.
On the other hand, people with suicidal tendencies sometimes communicate to people around them by, for instance, writing notes, distributing properties, writing a will or even saying statements such as I wish God could take me, what is the point of living? among other remarks.
Upon noticing that a person has such symptoms, Dr Birabwa advises family members, friends and those close to the individual to get them immediate help. Consider taking them to a hospital where counsellors can offer the needed assistance.

Turning point
Concerned, the family intervened and talked to Latif. “I remember my parents and brother telling me it was not the end of the world and, that I would get to see my children again. They also encouraged me that with time, I would meet another man and fall in love again,” she says.
To help with the healing process and keep her busy, her brother set up a business for her. “The work kept me busy and diverted my thoughts from worry,” she says.

The second relationship
In 2004, Latif fell in love again and although they never married, the couple had a daughter in 2007. The encouragement and support from her new partner prompted Latif to register for a Diploma in Counselling and Guidance at Kabale University graduating in 2010.

Latif’s qualifications enabled her to get a job in 2012 at Rugarama hospital in Kabale District. Here, she worked as a counsellor and a focal person for Orphans and other Vulnerable Children. Within this same year, Latif’s partner told her that he had married another woman. “He did not tell me why. He only told me about the marriage and walked away,” she says adding: “I just did not see a reason to live. I started taking 40 sedatives a day. I would take 10 in the morning, 10 at lunch, 10 in the evening and 10 before I slept,” she says.
“On some occasions, I would carry harmful objects in my bag, such as knives, with the motive of killing myself,” she says.

Treatment
Those around Latif thought she was mentally ill and started avoiding her. She was losing weight, calling her daughter different names, crying and sleeping for long hours.
Once again, her family intervened and got her admitted at Kabale Regional Referral Hospital psychiatric ward. Even here, she would try to use things such as electrical cables and to try and kill herself. So, the staff members were left with no option but to clean her room of everything. After 17 days, she was transferred to Serenity Centre on Entebbe Road, a facility that helps individuals affected by addiction. Part of the recovery programme includes fellowship, meditation and counselling.

After spending 91 days at the facility, Latif says her life changed for the better. “I once again realised that I was wasting my life away. I was forced to make a promise to myself to put my life back on track for the sake of my children,” she says. After leaving rehabilitation, Latif went back to stay with her parents. And it was during this time of recovery that her three eldest children reached out to her. Today, she lives with her eldest daughter who is 22 years old.

Life today
Latif reconciled with the father of her youngest child after his marriage collapsed. Because during counselling you are encouraged to forgive so as to move on, Latif reached out to her ex-husband and they are now on good talking terms and raising their children.
“Despite our conflicts, he still takes good care of our children,” she says. Although Latif has not swallowed any sedatives since 2015, she admits that the yearning kicks in occasionally.
“When the thoughts come up, I try to divert them by keeping busy. I take a walk, read a book or talk to someone,” she says adding: “Since my eldest daughter has a 5-month old baby, I find happiness in taking care of her.”

Advice
To those going through depression and bearing suicidal tendencies, Latif advises them to find courage to speak up and not suffer in silence. “Admit you have a problem and seek help,” she concludes.

Safety plan
This is a therapeutic tool that you can do yourself, help someone with or get a psychology professional to help you make.
Example of a safety plan
-Read through a list of positive things
-Distract myself from the thoughts by doing something I enjoy for example listening to music
-Call a friend/family member - Call a crisis number
-Go to a place a feel safe

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