Mental Health Awareness is now making inroads a lot more online. I’m grateful to see elements of Mental Health discussed at length on our timelines and in forums to help curb the ongoing stigma, misconception and socio-cultural prohibitions, and to recruit as many people on the ground as possible to join in the cause.
Mental Health Awareness Month passed by last month and while I feel strongly about this topic, I could not find myself talking/writing about it. I have mentioned my struggle with postpartum anxiety in passing though I simply didn’t feel ready to talk about Mental Health in its entirety. But when is one ever ready?
We usually advocate for checking up on your friend’s well being and looking out for the stronger friend as much as we can but we don’t discuss the dynamics between mental health and the household as often. It’s as if responsibility is solely placed on friendships to handle the affected. Family is the first point of contact in everything we do. So we should also take an active role in giving care to mentally ill patients/relatives.
This is difficult especially when faced with challenges such as ignorance about the extent of mental health issues, stigma against those living with MI and mistaken beliefs and myths that MI cannot be treated, even as the healthcare expenditure increases.
Some members don’t really understand how anyone could be having a mental illness that’s not associated with Schizophrenia. Therapy is largely frowned upon. You mention any other condition and you’re probably advised to take it to the Lord in prayer. Depression is “just stress” that you can get in and out of and as for your anxiety, you better “stop worrying too much.”
In Africa especially, the direct causes of mental distress are thought to be social as opposed to medical. Thinking too much – a blanket description for grief, stress and depression – is associated with intense social problems such financial worries, memories linked to past trauma, losing someone you loved or feeling unsafe at homes.
Even as mental health interventions are leading to clinical improvements, how do we make inroads in households affected with mental illness?
Thinking too much is a conversation starter and a point of reference. Let’s start from there and replace every myth with a medical explanation. Talking to family about this is an opportunity to provide information and guidance. They should be encouraged to learn more about mental health issues including places where one can access mental health resources in Kenya.
This leads to improved recognition of early signs of mental health conditions and patients receiving early medical and psychological intervention. Families should focus on neglected issues of mental health and provide emotional and financial support to affected persons.
They should also be encouraged to take a non-judgemental and responsive approach for a greater understanding and compassion to allow their loved ones to feel comfortable opening up about their challenges and talk through possible solutions with them.
Let’s be kind, supportive and responsive to each other’s problems.