Kuukua Eshun: Let’s Talk About Mental Health Within The African Community
What comes to mind when you hear “Mental health?” Perhaps a psychiatric hospital? “Mad” people running the streets? Horrific stories about mentally ill people attacking you or someone you know?
As a community, we need to redefine the way we view mental health and the impact it has on us.
Mental health simply refers to the well-being of our psychological and emotional state; Which includes but is not limited to, how we feel, think and act. Mental health affects our everyday life and decision making.
A lot of people find it shameful to admit that they struggle with mental health issues: and on the other hand, some people stray away from the topic in hopes that by ignoring it, their mental and emotional health issues will disappear, others do not even believe mental health is real at all.
However, I think we can all agree that our African/ Black communities do not talk about mental health.
It is critical for the African community to understand the process of mental health illness. It’s imperative to admit that mental health is real and should be addressed. Often times, the experience of the African individual is a singular one. One of the biggest factors that influence mental health is the fact that we often feel pressured to paint a perfect picture of our lives to the world around us.
How social media affects mental health.
That is to say, Living in a time where social media is practically taking over most people’s lives, it has become such a difficult task for one to appreciate and concentrate on one’s own life. I say this because most people are dissatisfied with their lives due to constantly comparing themselves to other people’s success.
Although most people will not admit it, almost every single one of us deal with some sort of mental health issues on a daily basis.
- anxiety disorders (very common in most people)
- mood disorders like depression, mood swings and bipolar disorder
- schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is common in children and teens, and adults as well.
- eating disorders
- Alzheimer's disease
Moreover, it is crucial to understand that most people experience the mental illnesses I’ve listed above.
There is a clear distinction between the mind and body but the real danger is when we separate our Mental health from our physical health.
Not only is struggling with mental health physically draining, it also substantially interferes with or limits your ability to live your life freely. This is what often causes many people to commit suicide. It is difficult to separate the mind from the body.
Not to mention, In a Situational Analysis done by the World Health Organization (WHO),
“It is estimated that out of 21.6 million people living in Ghana, 650,000 are suffering from a severe mental disorder and further 2,166,000 are suffering from a moderate to mild mental disorder. The treatment gap is 98% of the total population expected to have a mental disorder.” (W.H.O)
Many people are suffering and as a community, we need to come together and fight mental health.
How having parents who are not educated on the topic of mental health can affect you.
Having said that, raising awareness about mental health should start from home. Some of our African parents are ignorant when it comes to the extent of mental health issues like; anxiety, depression, mood swings, ADHD and many others are not even acknowledged in most African homes. Like I’ve already mentioned, mental health affects your everyday life.
From your relationship with the people around you to school grades, self-doubt, self-esteem problems, fear of failure, it can even be as extreme as hating yourself and your life, it can affect your diet and even sleep schedule. African parents mostly tend to think their children are lazy or are incapable of being an ideal child. Be advised that, It is extremely difficult to live or be around a person suffering from mental illness if you’re not educated on the topic.
How gender roles affect mental health.
In addition, the struggle with mental health is even more pronounced When gender rule is thrown into the mist. In Africa, men are taught to be “masculine” and to max their emotions and on the other hand, women are taught to be fragile and submissive beings. It is no surprise that men have higher suicide rates. Being a man doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express your emotions to the point where it affects your mental health.
Men are scared of being seen as weak and this is why they rather not talk about their mental health struggles whiles women are seen as “too soft” when they open up about their emotional or mental issues.
According to research, women are more likely to talk about their mental health struggles than men do. There is so many factors that play a role when it comes to mental health and our community.
What can be done in order to decrease mental health issues within our communities.
Nonetheless, we need to set up more organizations and collectives that will consistently create a safe space for mental health discussions to be held a few times a month. This will encourage more people to share their stories and experiences without fear or doubts of being judged due to the stigma against people struggling with mental health.
It will also help to build a strong network of African/ black communities who will support and help each other grow. It is important to establish a collaborative definition of what mental health looks like to each Individual. The one thing people suffering from mental health need to remember is, there is hope.
People struggling with a mental health need to be attentive enough to realize that, if you don’t fight it, you’re probably adding to it.
There are lots of things you can do to improve your mental health, like; The company you find yourself in can either worsen your mental state or improve it, feeding your brain with nothing but positive thoughts can help one feel better as well.
Also, watching the kinds of foods you take into your body. Whatever food one consumes is what feeds the brain.
Activities like reading, writing, painting, going out to socialize, working out and many more can help a person suffering from mental health feel better.
Looking into these systems will reveal how our mental and emotional health affects our everyday life!