Africans should understand that mental illness is not and will never be witch craft or as a result of poor upbringing. Just like physical illness, mental illness equally affects our bodies and requires immediate medical attention.
We have been brought up to believe that mental illness is for the “whites”, ever heard of the phrase “those are white people diseases”?, unfortunately, mental illness is categorized in such insanity. The only mental illness that is recognized in Africa is “madness”. Honestly, anyone can suffer from mental illness, most of us suffer from these illnesses without a single clue hence the constant suicides and mental break downs.
The common types of Mental illness include;
- Anxiety & Panic Disorders.
- Bipolar Disorder.
- Eating Disorders.
- Substance Abuse & Addiction.
I won’t go into what each of them entails however here are a few things you need to keep in mind when it comes to mental illness.
1. Mental illness does not require a counselor but rather a therapist. As much as the two go hand in hand, they have a few differences. A counselor will advise you on something you should change and take up in order to avoid the situation while on the other hand, a therapist will find out what triggers your mental illness and which medication would work best. Someone suffering from depression does not need to be told that “Be thankful because others have it worse” but rather, the patient needs someone who can level with them, listen and advise on the right medication
2. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is an illness just like cough or malaria or even headache. The patient needs immediate medical attention.
3. There are different causes of mental illness and they all cannot be summed up to poor up bringing and definitely not witch craft. Yes, there are people whose illnesses have been triggered childhood up bringing however, others are triggered by other situations like societal standards and body shaming. Pay attention.
4. When someone approaches you to discuss a mental illness issue, do not ridicule them or stop at telling them to pray about it. This person has trusted you, why not engage them and advise them to see a medical personnel as soon as possible, better still why not offer to go with them?
5. Men suffer the most from Depression because of societal pressures of masculinity. Most men consider showing emotions as a sign of “weakness” hence cannot talk about how they feel; those little emotions pile up till they burst out of that little corner they have been shoved in hence mental illness/breakdowns. Worse still, these patients would rather be caught dead than approach a medical facility in regard to mental illness. As a result, suicide rates among the men greatly increase between the age of 35 to 50.
6. If mental illness is not attended to, it could damage relationships in families. Mental illness unlike any other illness causes a lot of damage in families. I am certain all of you have heard stories of children not being able to talk to their parents because of the relationship they have nurtured while growing up. This same relationship is carried on by these children once they become parents and so do their children. This results to cases like bullying, suicide, drug addiction and Violence to mention but a few. As a parent, make sure that your children and yourself maintain a healthy mental state; be supportive, listen, educate your children and do not push them away. This is a culture they will carry on for generations.
7. When Depression interweaves with Anxiety, it leads to cases of drug abuse, alcohol addiction, physical abuse and suicide. As much as these two disguise as just normal emotions which might not call for alarm at an early stage, they are really common and need at most medical attention.
None the less, look out for the people around you, mental illness is not something to be afraid of and should equally be treated as any other physical sickness. Be as supportive as you can, listen and contact the best therapist you can come across.