Mental Health Awareness Month is upon on us. In many of our African communities, mental health is disregarded mostly due to lack of knowledge resulting in abandonment and neglection of people suffering from these illnesses. It is time we #BreakTheStigma and promote mental health education in our continent.

I remember the day, very vividly, when that friend of the family (who I still begrudgingly call “Auntie” out of respect) asked me why I had switched my major from biology/pre-med to psychology. She quickly proceeded to tell me that there was no money in that field because was not a real field.

I was not surprised at her reaction and still hold it in me many years later as a reminder of one the ways mental health stigma is maintained. Not only did I receive these reactions from her, I had received that from others of foreign backgrounds and some Christians too. The irony is that some physical conditions are caused or worsened by problems with mental health. But we don’t talk about mental health. We don’t talk about suicide. We don’t talk about depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. We don’t talk about grief. We remain silent as if somehow being silent will make it all go away. Yet our communities suffer. The statistics speak for themselves.

mentalhealth1According to the National Institute of Mental Health in 2015, 17.9% of adults suffer from or have suffered from a mental illness. For African Americans, the rate is 15.4%. Furthermore, Oyewunmi, Oyewunmi, Iyiola, Oluwole and Ojo, researchers from  Covenant University, Ogun State, Nigeria reported a statistic that about 20% of Nigerians suffer from mental illness. It is believed that approximately 3 million of the 44 million (about 7%) in Kenya suffer from problems with mental health. Even closer to home, I’ve heard stories of family friends who have died randomly from stress-induced diseases or diseases made worse by stress.

Mental Health doesn’t go away if we don’t talk about it. Often, it becomes worse.

To anyone who is currently struggling from a mental illness, you are not alone. You are not weak. It is ok to get help. No, you’re not less of a [insert religion here] if you get help. Your family may not agree with you, but there are people who are willing to help you.eggs

It’s time to talk about Mental Health.

To bring this topic to life, I asked a friend of Nigerian descent about her experience seeking out mental health services:

“After breaking off a four-year roller coaster toxic relationship, I was at a crossroad. I was just about failing my second year of college and potentially losing my scholarships. I had and still do have a great circle of friends but some things cannot just be solved by a simple phone conversation. I began to drink more in order to numb my emotions, which did not deal with the root issue. At a certain point, I stopped going to classes and when I did go, I went with a water bottle filled with alcohol. Coping with a bad break up, emotional instability,a developing drinking habit, I was directionless and quickly running down the path to fail school. One day, I just happened to stumbled into an elaborately decorated area of my Dean’s building. I noticed the office had a nice and inviting ambiance and wondered what services were offered there. I was greeted with a warm smile from a young lady who introduced herself as Rachel and told me student counseling services were offered there free of charge! Over the next one year, Rachel would meet with me for one hour. This was my hour unwind, not feel judged and to gain insight or perspective. I began to notice that  through my sessions with Rachel, I became lighter. I became more in control of my emotions. No longer was I bottling up anger, resentment and bitter emotions. I learned the power of no and how to effectively communicate how I feel without remorse.  Although, that dark phase of life is behind me, I can’t imagine what I would have done without Rachel. I wholeheartedly support mental health services, there are many “Rachel’s” who can be someone’s angel.”

Check out this week’s #inspireCAW and join the campaign to #BreakTheStigma!


 By Stephanie Okpara

Ivery Arie
Author: Ivery Arie

2 comments on “UNSPOKEN

  1. Facebook Comment:

    Very strong point. There are still few mental health professionals in our communities also. This should be a huge concern, because our community is maintained by no one else but us. I have made some vivid observations of young men losing their minds or simply displaying certain types of behavior that are indicative of some type of mental handicap or problem. It can be very uncomfortable.

  2. Facebook Comment:

    Great read 👍🏾

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