Writing

MENTAL ILLNESS IN AFRICA ISN’T A MYTH.

Hello beautiful people. Today I’m just going to jump right into it, no fun facts or dry jokes, none of that. It’s partly because we’ve not been having water rationing of late and my jokes have become wet, and partly because today’s topic is a bit heavy on my heart and I don’t want to dilute it. Lol.


What is mental illness?

For most people, the first thought that comes to mind is a mad man/woman running around the streets dressed in dirty clothes or naked, having a heated conversation with an imaginary person. Full stop. Sounds simple right? What’s to discuss there? But that’s not it. I’m sure if you asked an older person from another generation, some will probably tell you “Ah wachana na hizo vitu za wazungu. Ati depression, anxiety, hiyo ni ujinga.” Probably that’s one of the reasons most people who suffer from mental illness don’t even know that they are suffering, and the ones who know, they can’t seek help, because their African parents probably wouldn’t understand the concept of paying hard-earned money to talk to a stranger about an imaginary illness. (I know mine wouldn’t).

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. A mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. Mental illness varies in severity from person to person.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or any of that, just someone who is passionate about doing research to enable myself to understand certain things and actually have a discussion.

There are many examples of mental illnesses out there. Some common ones are:

  • Anxiety disorders which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.
  • Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
  • Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
  • Impulse control and addiction disorders; Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drug are common objects of addictions.
  • Personality disorders, for example antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Are people who suffer from mental illness abnormal?

NO! NO! NO! They are not abnormal. Mental illness is actually very common. Apparently, one in every four people suffers from mental illness at one point in their life, either directly or indirectly. Research actually shows that mental illness may be caused by factors that are out of the person’s control, like genetic, environmental and/or social factors, so hunny, IT IS NORMAL! It’s an illness like any other, and no one should feel ashamed about it. Just like something like asthma, no one chooses to get mental illness, and in the same way, someone suffering from mental illness can get treatment and live a normal healthy life.

I am saddened by what’s been going on this year, the increase in number of suicides, and the heartbreaking incidents that have been occuring, because I feel like some could have been prevented if only we began talking about these things earlier. The latest was the incident at Moi Girls’ Nairobi. It literally breaks my heart and makes me tear up every time I think of those young girls who have gone too soon. A part of me wonders if maybe the girl who started the fire could have been suffering silently from something in this line or even something different. I feel the weight of guilt on my shoulders, and I blame us as a society for being ignorant, scared and too selfish to get out of our comfort zones to delve into this ‘white man’ issues that has been affecting so many and that can literally affect anyone. Will we wait for it to be us or someone close to us like our sisters, friends, daughters, sons, brothers, mothers, boyfriends or girlfriends for us to realize that remaining silent and ignorant is worse?

My story.
I can’t say that I have/have not suffered mental illness, because there is a difference between having a mental health concern and actually saying you have mental illness. I have had times in my life, some recurring to date, where I have had symptoms of some of these, but I have not gone to a doctor so I shall not weigh down the intensity of it all by using the word lightly. For instance, something like malaria, you see, you could have symptoms of malaria, be convinced that that’s what it is, only to go to a doctor and be told that it was actually something completely different. In the same way, a mental health concern can not be 100% confirmed to be an illness unless tested by a specialist, and in my opinion, google tests are not equivalent. Saying you have an illness that you don’t isn’t right, because bruhh power of the tongue is no joke! Same goes to this thing of using the word depressed as a synonym for ‘sad’, tutawacha hiyo mambo please, because they are not the same thing.

Anyway, I have had a couple of battles with my mental health and I’ve had seasons where all I saw was darkness. One of the things I’ve struggled with (the one I’m comfortable sharing right now) was anxiety, more specifically, having episodes of panic attacks. In high school I had a couple of episodes. Something that you’d call ‘small’ would happen and I’d be triggered, I’d get really terrified, become dizzy, my heart would start racing, I’d start struggling to breath, start shaking, and I’d just burst into tears, because I had no idea what was happening and it scared me. I assume that a heart attack feels almost like that. If I was around people, they would just think “ah she’s just crying” when really there was something much more intense. I haven’t had as many episodes after High School. One of the most significant was a couple of months ago when I had two in one evening, one in public, at an event, and the second when I got home. In both instances, people didn’t know what to do and I honestly don’t blame anyone for it. That’s why I feel this is a conversation we need to start having, and if possible, a subject that should be included in our curriculum. We need to equip ourselves with the knowledge and skill to deal with it.

The trigger? If I told you, you’d probably laugh. Personally, I cringe a little when I think of it. But that’s just how it is with most mental issues. The mind is so damn powerful, extremely powerful, and a single thought, no matter how ‘small’ you think it is, could trigger something bigger. Reminds me of the series ’13 reasons why’. I’ve had discussions about it with a couple of people and most times it’s always ‘Ah I didn’t like it, those reasons were dumb, especially the first ones.’ My response.. NO! They weren’t! There’s no big or small issue,, an issue is an issue, especially where mental illness is involved.


Be intentional!

Most times we don’t know everything that’s going on in people’s lives, even our best friends. We don’t know what’s going on in their minds or in their hearts, and we don’t know the demons they are fighting. People suffering from mental illness don’t walk around wearing a warning sign or a bell, most have mastered the art of pretense. So really, you never know. All we can do is be intentional in how we relate with one another. Be kind, because you do not know the darkness people are battling. Care for the wellbeing of your friends and family. Enough of this ‘it’s their life’ mentality or the shallow, ‘Hi, how are you, good’ conversations. Purpose to know exactly what’s happening in their lives, how they are doing, what’s happening at home, at work, or in school, find out the state of their hearts and minds. Most importantly, LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! Love people for who they are, in all their imperfections and broken-ness, and keep reassuring them of that love, because love just has a way of healing the darkest, dirtiest, cobweb filled corners of our souls.

To anyone who may have any mental related issue, whether it’s a diagnosed mental illness or not, please, do not suffer alone, talk to a friend or a family member, go see a specialist, heck even talk to me, for real, email me or something, I’d be willing to listen and help where I can. Hunny, your story is not over; you haven’t even reached the climax. You’ve come this far, you can’t give up now. And please, Live! Just try to live life! Get out and do something fun, get hobbies that you enjoy, hang out with friends even when you feel like not socializing (you might be surprised when you end up having a good time), exercise, eat healthy, drink water, meditate, pray and ask people to pray for you and with you. Start fighting your battles on your knees and watch them eventually start to slowly disappear.

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Photo credits: @aestco and @omwangeokechi on Instagram

This is just from one person’s perspective, please do your own research and learn more. Here’s a link that I have found has some really helpful information on the same — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20369/

Remember that you were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

Do you have experience with mental illness? Share your story in the comments below, it could possibly help someone out there.

Don’t forget to like, follow my blog for updates, comment and share. Let’s keep this conversation going.

So yeah, that’s it for today. Till next time, chao.

Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. xx

Grow x Glow.

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35 thoughts on “MENTAL ILLNESS IN AFRICA ISN’T A MYTH.”

  1. This is beautiful and so true. We don’t speak a lot about it. In fact I have not been open about my own problem. I’ve been dealing with severe depression and anxiety and this time round I’ve hit rock bottom and I’m staying indoors. It is an actual problem. This is great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. However late…. I really had to comment on this piece right here …. We are currently living in a world of emotional imbalance… In our society … We are expected to eat up our feelings and face life everyday… Like nothing ever happened…. It is important that we create a platform where both the young and even the old can express their deep emotions that eat them up…. It is not fair that another human being succumbs to depression and there still exists people who call themselves human enough … On a personal level… This is one of my goals this year …. Cheers to you @Foi Wambui for this one

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello sweetheart. Thank you so much for reading. It’s true we are made to feel as though expressing our feelings is a crime, when really it’s by expressing that we realize that we’re not alone. Yess, we need platforms where people can just be real. Thank you sweetheart. And continue in making your goals come true, I’m here if you need me

      Like

  3. This article is very enlightening and true. Africa needs to wake up and address this issue of Mental Health. Too much suffering due to ignorance, silence and apathy.

    Liked by 1 person

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