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Mental Health, The Elephant in the Room

Mental Health, The Elephant in the Room
People with mental illness are among the most marginalised, oppressed, devalued, and stigmatised populations in our society. It’s time we address the elephant in the room- or rather the continent. We’ve got plenty of those. Today’s topic is the stigmatisation […]

People with mental illness are among the most marginalised, oppressed, devalued, and stigmatised populations in our society. It’s time we address the elephant in the room- or rather the continent. We’ve got plenty of those.

Today’s topic is the stigmatisation of mental health in the African household. If we intend to dismantle the stigma of mental health in the Black communities, we should start in our homes; acknowledging the state of one’s mental state is deeply personal. Be that as it may, how we, as a society, respond to mental health is a global issue as it correlates with how we treat each other and should treat each other. 

As black people, what do we actually have against these very real medical conditions? Dear Black parents, why do you skirt around such issues with your children? Why are underlying issues -issues that eventually cause resentment and tear families apart- never addressed in our households?

It’s time that we as a community, a society, confabulate and discuss the reason why we’ve placed things like childhood trauma, abuse, and mental health on the highest shelf of the Taboo section of Things We Don’t Talk About.

“Depression is a deep overwhelming sense of sadness, an unshakable feeling of despair. A never-ending feeling of unhappiness.” –Lennox (22) on depression. 

For eons, mental health has always been disregarded and somewhat inconsequential; even watered down to ‘feeling blue’ or ‘under the weather’. More times than one can count, a bible has been thrust into the hands of someone dealing with more than inner turmoil. Some people fail to realize that the state of someone’s mental health is not something that can be prayed away with a douse of anointing oil- it’s not something you just ‘get over’ like some petty breakup. 

“It makes me feel crazy. Yes, I do believe in the Lord, I do pray and anointing on my own but when I’m told to do it because of my mental health, it makes me feel like I’m insane for having to feel this way, or that I’m being told that God doesn’t like crazy so I always have to pretend like everything is okay when it ain’t. It makes me feel confused, I’ll be honest, I wonder if the religion on its own is even real and if I’d become a “backwashed” Christian and stop praying, etc. But I find myself going back to Christianity ‘cause that’s where I mostly find peace. I feel like I interpret the bible in a totally different way than anyone else, the way I see it is more “humane”, and not to say that the people around me are monsters… but they don’t see it in that way and it pushes other Christians away.” – Buyisiwe (17) on mental health and religion. 

Lines can be blurred where mental health and mental illness amalgamate. Mind you, they are not one and the same thing.

Mental health is simply one’s mental wellbeing (e.g. emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc.) whereas mental illness affects the way people think, feel, believe, etc. Typically, when we talk about mental health, we mainly refer to anxiety and depression. Just to clear the air, depression is not just feeling sad and anxiety isn’t just feeling nervous and worried; there’s a plethora of intense thoughts and feelings involved that eventually take over one’s daily routine and lifestyle.

In low-income and middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people receive no treatment for their mental disorders. Imagine the astronomical percentage of people who go undiagnosed. 

“Hi, depression my dearest friend. You came and you crept slowly into my life like a thief at night. Just like that huh? I hate you, God, I hate you. You brought along your best friend anxiety and I feel cornered. I can’t make any decisions before thinking about it 4 or 5 times. I can’t make decisions for myself. I need constant reassurance. I’ve lost 8kg. I don’t smile as much as I used to anymore. I don’t enjoy life anymore, every single day, waking up is a mission and a half. I don’t bother w my personal appearance anymore, I just throw on a shirt and some sweatpants, even if I have been wearing them for 4 days straight… my body aches 24/7. I’m skeptical about the people in my life, even those that I know truly love me. I cannot bring myself to reciprocate their love. I live in my bed now. My heart is heavy 24/7…”Katlego (19), read more of her riveting piece here

As if the plate wasn’t already full, there’s a shame that accompanies mental disorders but, I can assure you that there’s nothing wrong with you just because you suffer from depression or other mental health issues. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with you if swallowing pills is a new part of your daily routine, try to stay positive. If you’re forgetful like me, it may be quite the adjustment. It’s not easy, I know but do keep in mind that sometimes, our bodies don’t necessarily have everything they need to take care of our minds. Don’t fight the little helpers you need to keep moving and functioning at your best. 

“I would say anxiety is a disease that crumbles your spirit, confidence, and wellbeing. I felt relieved when I was diagnosed and prescribed the appropriate medication, I felt like I found my superhero who finally came to save me from the villain that had taken me hostage. I felt understood. Finding out what was wrong with me gave me hope. It brought peace, the peace that had been stripped away by this disease, this villain. I always felt helpless and vulnerable. Whenever I would express what I felt, it only got worse. It was as though anxiety had pointed a gun to my head… I had no control over my situation…but finding the medication and cutting off some people saved. To me, anxiety is many things but it is definitely not impossible to conquer.” – Crystal (18) on anxiety and medication. 

It is one thing to speak on something you’ve never experienced and another to go through it. Anyone who knows me knows that I have chronic migraines and after a rocky 2019 of unforeseen circumstances. I found myself crying more than I ever had, anywhere and everywhere whenever I was left to my own devices. I was prescribed with antidepressants as a part of my treatment. My aunt spilled all the tea to my new physician and I learned that mental health and migraines actually do go hand in hand so the more my mental health dwindled, the more the severity of my attacks would increase. 

Personally, my mental health has never been a clean slate. Like many others, trauma is a parasite that won’t leave my side, however, when I heard I would be taking antidepressants, I was kind of like, wait pump the breaks mister, it’s not that deep.

But frankly, it was and still is that deep.

If you, or anyone else you know, may have depression you aren’t too sure about it, click here. You may find yourself relating to the experience of others. If you’re questioning the importance of a diagnosis, please keep in mind the people who either turn to alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm or, commit suicide. 

Take your mental health as seriously as you take anything else. This is your life and you only get one shot. No do-overs. Take care of it.

If you need hotlines ASAP, click here and be sure to visit https://www.friendshipbenchzimbabwe.org/

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