Our culture does not encourage seeking psychological richness – because seeking it comes across as a weakness or in extreme cases as queer [witchy]. We are encouraged to seek wealth, health (new), fame (sometimes), education (always – never wavering) but mental health issues are always put in the back banner and labelled as ‘white people’s problems’. New mothers hide postnatal depression because they are more worried about being judged as inadequate and bad, than asking for help because they are unable to cope. This issue has been discussed to death, but the effects are not good enough; it’s time to destigmatise everything associated with mental health.
There are many people out there who think mental health problems are not problems, but something sinister, or something made up, or ‘doesn’t-affect-us-because-we-go-to-church’. It’s about time we normalise the talk. Many KenBrits look after loved ones back home – financially – but how many can say those loved ones call to ask how they are doing without the conversation ending with ‘send us money for this and that!’ Some diasporas go through tremendous stress because they can’t afford to look after their relatives back home as well as their families here, so they end up in the looney bin. Then their ‘close friends’ talk behind their backs saying they’d been bewitched by jealous extended families. In the US, it is normal for someone to see a therapist [shrinks as they are commonly called], but here the few that do it won’t talk about it because it’s commonly believed that only the weak talk to other people, other than God, about their problems. Let’s normalise this – I think the best therapy is to talk to a professional who knows what they are talking about and can offer solutions or suggest coping mechanisms, most of which that have been tested and proved to provide long term relief e.g. CBT.
The following story has been fictionalised to maintain anonymity, but to raise awareness stories like these have to be told.
Nadia is a 52-year-old woman, a mother with no child. Her only daughter committed suicide last year. Nadia has been battling depression and suicidal thoughts ever since; mostly because she blames herself for her daughter’s death and because she has no one to talk to. Unbeknown to her, her daughter had been battling depression and suicidal thoughts since the age of 13. Once, aged 16, the daughter had mentioned to Nadia that she was feeling ‘very’ down and couldn’t explain why. Nadia, then none the wiser, told her ‘to get over herself and get on with it’. Feeling down and depressed are white people’s problems and have no place in our society – she had said and walked away, never once trying to understand or talk to her daughter.
Today people might judge Nadia as naïve, ignorant or stupid – but it’s a known fact that the black culture does not dwell too much on these issues. It is highly probable that Nadia has unresolved issues that manifest themselves in her inability to feel compassion. In some parts of our world, mental health is categorised as witchcraft or demon possession. Every mental health problem is blamed on the devil and it’s hard to convince folks that people are suffering from mental illnesses like schizophrenia or mental disorders like anxiety and depression. They will often brush you aside and label the sufferer as cursed, bewitched, or possessed etc. Recently we’ve witnessed all sorts of religious rituals to rid of the devil – stories for another day.
Back to Nadia. When her daughter turned 18, she attempted suicide but was unsuccessful because her then roommate found her unconscious and foaming at the mouth and called the ambulance. Her mother was contacted by the roommate because her medical notes listed the roommate as next of kin and not the mother. She came to the hospital visibly shaken and worried sick. She stayed at her daughter’s side until she woke up. Everyone thought she was the best mother until the poor girl woke up. She gave her a deathly stare and bombarded her with a zillion question. “Why?” “Why would you let the devil reign supreme in your heart?” “Don’t you care about anyone but yourself?” “You are a very stupid girl.” “How can you be so weak?” “You need to make an appointment with the pastor.” She went on and on to the shock of the roommate and a student nurse. The mother then walked out and told her daughter to call her when she grows up. Needless to say, the poor girl burst into tears. Long after leaving the hospital she did try to ‘grow up’ but the dark cloud stayed with her and felt under water all the time. She sought professional help but the things she wanted most was her mother’s embrace and support – the therapist told her as much – her mother called that nonsense and childish. The girl sank further into darkness and helplessness.
Fast forward 8 years, the poor girl now a woman done it again. Only this time she was successful. She left a suicide note blaming her problems not only on her fragile mental state but on her mother and her inability or incapability to help or to want to help. She had problems in all areas of her life and that she had wanted to talk to her mother about them. The mother was physically and emotionally unavailable, and when she was physically present all she did was belittle the daughter, minimise her problems and maximise her failures. She said hurtful things like ‘I was married by the time I was your age’, and such comments only exacerbated her feelings about herself. Imagine the worst things you think about yourself and then someone you trust uses them as weapons to put you down and keep you there. She could take no more, and so she committed suicide – this time successfully. Nadia read the note and as been crying ever since.
Why am I telling this story? To inspire change on how we view mental health. As a community we encourage spiritual growth, self-love (not conceited) and forgiveness. Is it time we encourage psychological self-care? If someone you trust doesn’t fulfil your psychological needs, there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help – is there?
I think it’s ok to give yourself permission to slow down and not pressurise yourself because you are required to provide help to everyone but yourself.
It is ok to choose yourself without feeling guilty or selfish – if you feel the need for a therapist or shrink do it and don’t worry about what people might think or say because they will think and say things, you just have to make peace with it. We need to normalise this – like going to the gym for physical fitness why not go to therapy for mind care even when all is seemingly normal?
As you are being kind to others, be kind to yourself first – we all respond to challenges differently. Don’t be harsh to yourself because your response is different from everyone’s else – individual differences are what make us unique. Be sincere and intentional.