Mental Health Issues: There is No Shame In It.
For some reason, mental health is a subject people are generally not comfortable discussing. We speak excitedly about physical health; encourage spiritual health but we do not give mental health more than a passing mention.
What is mental health and why is it so important that we talk about it?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental health is:
“… a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
The WHO stresses that mental health “is not just the absence of mental disorder.” (from www.medicalnewstoday.com)
It is difficult to properly function in your life if your mental health is compromised. Your relationships, career and physical health will suffer to put it mildly.
Having mental health issues is not the same as being mad.
Mental health issues include anxiety and depression which most of us are familiar with. The death of a loved one, a chronic disease or being involved in an accident, these can cause such trauma as to shake your sense of self. Your mental wellness can take a severe blow from these incidences. Chemical imbalances due to illness or drugs can also result in your mental well-being being turned upside down.
One thing is for sure, mental health issues are what they are and their causes and symptoms are too many for us to do justice to them here.
Those of us with these problems are often grouped together with those who have the severest mental disorders. We are grouped with the poor forgotten “wendawazimu” roaming half naked on our streets caked in dirt and filth. Those who we have dismissed with finality.
Ridicule and scoff
I tried to bring up the topic of our children’s mental health at a recent parents’ meeting at my daughter’s school. Princess is in Form Four- her final year of high school. The pressure on these poor teens has caused them anxiety, loss of appetite and self doubt. They walk around with a haunted look on their faces, a sense of defeat and suffer restless nights.
Shockingly- or maybe not- the topic was shot down. And sent off with a derogatory “anyone under stress is obviously one who does not know how to manage their time well.”
And that is the worst part of having mental health issues- people pigeon holing you as a) Being clueless about something whether that something is prayer, time management or a lack of faith in the Almighty.
They will also dub you b) self indulgent and antisocial when you decide that you simply cannot attend large loud gatherings. The crowds drain you and you would rather stay safely within familiar territory. They will dub you as immature or selfish.
I believe the worst part is when they send you well meant but condescending pity stares. As if somehow you are a victim. Some may even attach labels to you like Ms Anxiety or other thoughtless tags.
Brothers in Pain
I think the men of the species have it even worse than we ladies. Being men, society expects- no demands! that they are always strong, stoic and have it together. Such societal pressure is lethal to our poor brothers. I have seen many men crack under it so much so that addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers were their only way out.
If you follow the accepted Islamic standard and put yourself under an experienced sheikh to “exorcise” whatever demons that plague you- if you are a lady then no one even blinks. But if you happen to be a man then you will get more than your share of odd looks.
One thing we cannot allow society to do is to diminish the agony and anguish people with mental issues go through. Small normal everyday actions like getting out of bed, taking a shower, leaving your house – movements and actions people do without thinking, that people take for granted; these actions can seem monumental for a person with depression and or anxiety.
Anyone who has suffered a panic attack- and somehow this usually happens in a very public place- can tell you it is like suffocating. You can’t breathe, your heart is threatening to burst out of your chest, you feel like you are drowning. You hear the voices around you but can’t say anything to help yourself.
Our workplaces and our schools are sometimes so toxic a mental health day becomes absolutely necessary.
We are all the same
Unfortunately, unless you have an actual physical illness that is accompanied by a doctor’s letter, you will be laughed off the payroll. Or the school register.
Asking for a day off to take care of your mental and emotional needs is met with scoff and derision. It is supposedly a Western import and decidedly unAfrican.
African, Asian, European we are all humans and we all need to nurture ourselves, protect ourselves from constant ridicule and negativity.
We need to remove this stigma around mental health. I have had a mother tell me that her six year old is telling her he is feeling so stressed.
We need to unabashedly address this elephant in the room that people feel uncomfortable talking about. There are too many stories on the news and whispered around of suicide, self harm and children running away from home.
There is no shame in having depression, anxiety or bipolar or any other mental health issue. It is painful enough living with it without feeling ashamed for suffering from it!
We should stop believing so.