MENTAL HEALTH IN AFRICA
I honestly don’t know where to begin. First of all it is not even recognised as a problem in most African countries. It exists but it is like most Africans are happy in denial. You try to address it and you hear statements like: “it is not my portion” “oyinbo disease” “rich people problems” and although I don’t believe I have struggled a lot with my mental health aside from bouts of anxiety, this ignorance affects me and I’ll explain why.
About a week ago I watched the notebook for the first time and I cried for about an hour after. My mum knowing I wasn’t one who cried frequently was concerned. I cried because of the character suffering from Alzheimer’s because it was at that moment I fully realised that my grandmother had had symptoms of Alzheimer’s and to my 10 / 11 year old brain she was being forgetful and sometimes silly.
I can’t begin to tell you the enormous guilt I felt and still feel. Memories of her calling me by my mother’s name and later on her younger sister’s name flooded my memory and I felt like I had failed her. I just wish that I had known, I wish someone had told me what it was, how to show her love and how I could have made her feel safer. I know now that she was probably frightened and confused when she recognised me as a child or a sister and I didn’t respond and I acted confused. How she might have felt alone in these moments coupled with the pain she was going through as a result of cardiovascular disease. I wish I had known and although I know it wasn’t my fault that I was uneducated on this matter I cant help but always think I failed her and now that I know I could have helped I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away.
My grandmother did not show symptoms of a typical example of what most Africans class as mental illness and that only goes to show how vast the spectrum of mental illness is and at some point in our lives we will all fall on that spectrum and if unidentified and untreated could lead to avoidable fatalities. The “mad” people on the street left to defend for themselves are at their most fragile and vulnerable, these illnesses like all other illnesses worsened without treatment. Families disown them, friends isolate them and the public ostracises them comforting their consciences by allowing themselves to believe that their ill health is a manifestation of God’s wrath on them, it baffles me that some religious Africans who believe in God’s merciful nature also believe that God will cause innocent people il health but that is a topic for another day.
I have a lot more to say but it can’t all be said today. I plan to cover more aspects of mental health to the best of my abilities, just so at least someone is talking about it and hopefully someone is listening. Open your mind to the realisation that mental health is real and educate yourself, it is 2017 and we have an abundance of resources. It would be a shame if the next generations of Africans live in ignorance.