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Can we Pay Attention to Mental Illness?

Can we Pay Attention to Mental Illness?
For any African child raised in the depth and surrounded by its ideas, one can tell you a number of things are disregarded by our culture. At the top of that list is Mental Illness. Granted, with the vast problems […]

For any African child raised in the depth and surrounded by its ideas, one can tell you a number of things are disregarded by our culture. At the top of that list is Mental Illness. Granted, with the vast problems that plague Africa such as poverty, civil conflict to mention but a few it is easy to see why the topic would be overlooked.

First of all, most Africans don’t believe in Mental Illnesses unless it causes one to strip down and eat dirt, you are fine. A pretty basic a way to look at the matter.

It is believed that when one is Mentally Ill a heavy stigma befalls them and encourages victims to suffer in silence.

Living with Mental Illness with no treatment is regrettably a norm on this beautiful continent, gaps between individuals with Mental Illnesses who receive treatment and those who don’t range as high as 90% in countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria. 

With the current stigma against Mental Illness, how is one supposed to get help or even know they need help?

Zimbabwe is ranked 19th worldwide for Suicide Deaths, for a small country we seem to be competing in the big leagues here, considering suicide is a common result of Mental Illness. Keep in mind this rank represents those cases reported, imagine the remote areas were people do not see a point of reporting such. The fact that Mental Illness is in the mind makes it hard to see or believe in others; (in)sanity is not the only determinate of mental wellbeing.

Kenyan humour writer, Ted Malanda stated,

“I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that depression is an illness…In fact, it is such a non-issue that African languages never bothered to create a word for it”.

It’s sad but these comments embody Africa’s attitude towards Mental Illness.

Ironically, health experts have estimated that as much as a fourth of the Kenyan population is ravaged by an array of Mental Illnesses.

It’s irritating how Africa repeatedly thinks it’s too special to be plagued by western problems. Once upon a time we Africans thought HIV was a western myth. Fast track to the present, many had to learn the hard way that was not the case. Sadly, history is repeating itself; we are still found lacking, tragic events seem to be the only language we hear, which in itself is a tragedy!

While we fixate on who is to blame and how it’s not a part of our culture the question is, who thinks mental illness could be part of any culture?

It is ultimately out of anyone’s hands to control this imbalance of chemicals in one’s brain. However, in some African countries, it seems to be taking the lead in this fight. 2012 saw Ghana pass Act 846, known as the Mental Health Act.

The act made Ghana one of the few African nations with a Mental Health Policy. Recently, a Photographer hosted an exhibition to document issues of Mental Health in Zambia, as well as his journey with Depression. 

In Zimbabwe, individuals like Dr Sacrifice Chirisa, a Mental Health specialist at Parirenyatwa Hospital, are working on breaking the stigma of Mental Illness and creating awareness. Primary care clinics in Harare have introduced the ‘friendship bench‘, a treatment method delivered by lay health workers and significant improvement has been seen in patients with depression and Anxiety.

If you’re based in Harare, have a look at this list of Mental Health Practitioners.

Please feel free to help someone out by sharing Mental Health Illness Practitioners in your area in the comments.  

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