Talking + How You Feel = Mental Charity

By Zenani Masuku, Lifestyle Coach for the African Institute for ending Violence , Depression, Bullying and Suicide (AFRIBS)

#MentalCharity #StartTheCoversation #Afribs #StopTheStigma #GetYourMindRight #FeelingsMatter

“We need to Talk” – that dreaded statement.

There are things we wish to say but cannot say and things that must be said but are hard to say. Creating dialogue is challenging when trying to communicate or describe an illness to someone – or anyone for that matter – especially those who live in an environment engulfed by the cloak of religion and biased traditional views. Such surroundings distort the truth about mental health, emotional well-being, and mental illness. Misconceptions make it difficult for individuals to share their stories about their mental well-being, because they feel ashamed. So before we begin to open up about how we feel about life, love, jobs, everyday experiences or even what we dislike – we need to first educate ourselves about the differences that exist between mental illness and mental health. Once people are clear about such differences then the affected persons can easily share their stories without facing any stigmatization stemming from ignorance.

Mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. Mental health is influenced by life experiences, environments, relationships with others, and physical health. “It refers to our emotional and psychological state, our social well-being, how we feel about ourselves, and how we interact with others”. However, poor mental health can lead to physical and mental illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, bipolar disorders, mood swings, addiction, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. Ignorance and a general lack of understanding in our communities – coupled with myths about demonic possession and the general “disgrace” unjustly applied to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders – leads to many who need help not being treated at all or being treated late. Generally, people suffer in silence because it is hard to reveal one’s emotional and psychological state to others who lack understanding or do not display any empathy. Therefore many do not enjoy the comfort and catharsis of sharing their experiences in a place of trust and safety because they fear the backlash from their community and families, who may not understand their symptoms or illness.

Fear is our biggest inhibitor when it comes to expressing our mental state. Our inability to overcome prejudices, insecurities and misconceptions surrounding mental health issues cripples us as a community. Many believe that mental health issues only exist in Europe or America because “black African communities don’t get affected by foreign emotional illnesses” because apparently, Africans do not have feelings or private thoughts. By consenting to such restrictive notions about the “human experiences” of African cultures and people, we unwittingly resolve to being binary peoples, capable of only feeling happiness or sadness. We defeat our “whole” selves by not expressing our full emotional spectrum and will not see the effects of shelving our thoughts or shunning others’ feelings until it’s too late. We mustn’t be afraid to start “the conversation”. I think the most amazing thing about talking openly about your mental state is the realization that you are not alone. Having that opportunity to say:

“Hey everyone, today is messed up for me,
I am feeling low and I just don’t know what to do!”

And receiving responses like:

“It will be okay,
I don’t know what to say, but can I give you a hug?
You wanna talk about it?”

Such simple expressions offer relief and support to someone with mental health issues.

There is a reason why the stereotypical representations of therapy (be it psychiatrist couches or group sessions) involve people talking openly. It is because dialogue is a crucial element of the healing process. Talking to someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a difficult time. Sometimes people don’t actually need to talk, but we need to listen, connect and support each other. Just reassuring each other that a bad situation or persistent problem or horrible situation”, will be all right, things won’t always stay the same,” is of value. It’s not a matter of toughening up, it is a matter of accepting and understanding what someone is saying to you. So, in order to help you listen and respond better, here is a quick FIVE STEP MENTAL CHARITY PLAN to aid you in initiating a conversation about mental health:

✔ Firstly, you got to create the time for you to talk with no distractions or imminent appointments. Find a comfortable space you can talk in without interruptions.
✔ Keep questions open ended and do not direct the conversation. Give them time to share what they want with you at their own pace.
✔ Be a good listener. Respect and acknowledge their feelings by repeating what they have said back to them to ensure them you have heard, understood, and respect their feelings. Avoid judgement and confrontation.
✔ You are not an expert so do not try to diagnose how they feel or offer solutions. Instead talk about ways to de-stress and reduce any defensiveness by sharing you feelings. Look for common ground.
✔ Finally, genuinely express your concern and give the person hope for recovery by offering them encouragement and support. However, if you feel there is an urgent need to act, refer them to, or contact a professional immediately.

Alternatively, you can adopt the three-K therapy strategy employed by the grandmothers who have been volunteering at the Friendship Bench Project in Harare for the past 10 years. They say, “if someone is suffering from kufungisisa, or thinking a bit too much – the Shona language equivalent of depression – what we do is use a three-step therapy strategy – 1. Kuvhura pfungwa (open the mind), 2. Kusimudzira (uplift them), and 3. Kusimbisa (strengthen them)”. Zimbabweans have always been oral people, therefore if our grandmothers can learn to speak the mental charity lingo fluently – in ‘vernc’, we all can.

DOWNLOAD the full ISSUE No.1 = Save Power, Save Power here.

Editor’s Notes:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that around 450 million people currently suffer from mental health conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. In 2017 WHO figures showed that Zimbabwe is ranked number 19 in the world in terms of deaths by suicide, with suicide deaths reaching 1 641 or 1,30% of total mortalities in the country. And according to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) in the United States of America, more than 90% of people who die by suicide show symptoms of a mental health condition. Therefore “Zimbabweans have been urged to open up when they have problems and seek counselling instead of resorting to suicide to solve problems emanating from gender-based violence, malignant illnesses, joblessness, and others”. However, there is  a gap in Zimbabwe’s healthcare services caused by the failure of doctors to recognize mental disorders in their patients combined with an under-resourced healthcare system. About 25% of the country’s primary-care patients suffer from depression, anxiety and other common mental disorders, but there are only 10 psychiatrists and 15 clinical psychologists serving a population of 15 million.

Selected Sources:

See: https://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/ 

 See: https://magellanhealthinsights.com/2018/05/23/mental-health-vs-mental-illness/ 

 Veneranda Langa (2018) Concern raised over spike in suicide cases. In: www.newsday.co.zw Available at: https://www.newsday.co.zw/2018/09/concern-raised-over-spike-in-suicide-cases/  ( Accessed on 10 June 2019)

 See: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/these-grandmothers-in-zimbabwe-are-helping-fight-depression 

How to support someone with a mental health problem (n.d)  In: www.mentalhealth.org  Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/supporting-someone-mental-health-problem (Accessed on 8 June 2019)

Tips For How To Help A Person With Mental Illness (n.d) In: www.nami.org Available at: https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/NAMI-FaithNet/Tips-For-How-to-Help-a-Person-with-Mental-Illness  (Accessed on 10 June 2019)

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