Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
As someone who was born and raised in an African rural villages, I can confirm that the stigma associated with mental health disorders is as normal as the sound of a rooster at dawn. People who suffer from mental health disorders are often bullied, harassed, shamed, and discriminated against.
I realised that when people don’t understand something (especially within the health category), they tend to build different and biased concepts about it – concepts that are easy to rationalise and that are usually false. Consequently, these “made-up” concepts eventually travel from one point of the community to another, creating serious misconceptions, myths, and taboos. These “made-up” concepts build communities that are disconnected to realities of mental health disorders, which consequently fortifies the stigma associated with mental health in African communities.
Mental health and therapy are amongst the top misunderstood and stigmatized topics within the majority of African communities. Consequently, those who suffer from mental health disorders shy away from opening up or to seeking the necessary help. According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization, “although there are known, effective treatments for mental disorders, more than 75% of people in low-and middle-income countries receive no treatment.” And even though there are other reasons associated with this skyrocketing percentage, social stigma accounts for most of it.
There is an unquestionable gap between mental health disorders and the mental health treatments within African communities. This calls for urgent and effective actions to significantly narrow this gap. This starts with awareness through education. African communities ought to have leaders (this can be anyone from household parents, to school teachers to municipal elected leaders) that are compelled to inform and to spread information that is true and precise about the nature of mental health disorders and why receiving the necessary treatment is so important. Communities ought to encourage more supportive structures. Creating safe spaces within social groups, friend groups, and within households can create and develop these supportive structures. Essentially, educating ourselves, our families (including children), co-workers, and friends, has the potential to contribute significantly towards dissolving the stigma around mental health and therapy within African communities.
On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to have a loving family (supportive structure) growing up. However, my family was strict and layered with so many boundaries – so, even as a young adult dealing with mental health challenges, I still find it a little bit difficult to confide in them (BUT I AM TRYING!).
If you are suffering from any mental health disorder, you can help raise awareness by educating others about your condition and treatment. If you have not yet opened up because of the fear of being judged or you haven’t started treatment because of the stigma attached to it, I would suggest that you firstly gather all your strength to acknowledge that you require assistance, thereafter, I would suggest that you push that strength a little further by reaching out to people you trust for the compassion, support, and understanding you need to see yourself through.
“Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.” – Mayo Clinic.