Mental Heath Awareness In African Culture

By Hellen Akinyi

I’m African, and based on how I grew up, “mental illness” was often displayed as a “white people’s” problem, meaning it wasn’t meant for us and the only mental illness they would acknowledge was the insane one. It wasn’t as if you could wake up one day and decide to tell your parents about how you feel so they can help you get help. So you decide to keep it all in because they wouldn’t understand!

They didn’t understand how something that’s not physical can affect you to the point that it leads to things like self harm and suicide. They didn’t get why you’d rather stay in rather than being out interacting with your family members due to social anxiety. Or how scared that you’ll get a panic attack in the middle of it all and “ruin” everything! Most didn’t get how you could fake a smile yet cry yourself to sleep or to the point you become numb! I personally wouldn’t blame them, it’s not an “African” thing but with everything changing and suicide being the leading cause of death in the youth, most are coming to terms with it, and trying their best to understand it.

The most common mental health conditions include depression and anxiety. Other conditions to mention just a few include bipolar disorder and OCD.

From a personal experience I know what depression and anxiety does to you. Being depressed is like you feel nothing at all and care about absolutely nothing, while anxiety is caring and giving attention to every tiny thing, letting tiny lame details get to you! And having both is going from not caring at all, wanting to die to caring about everything in seconds!

You never know when they strike, and you can’t really tell what’s going on with the person next to you, your friend, your sibling, parent, relative and so on! “Be kind to one another” that’s Ellen Degeneres’s quote and I love using it because a tiny act of kindness can change a whole person’s mood in seconds.

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Of course I’ve heard people claiming that people who have mental illness are just lazy, and can’t take responsibility for themselves, hence trying to blame it on something else. I don’t think that’s true in any way but we can’t really control anyone’s thoughts, and that’s why it’s very important to create awareness!

This month, I’ve heard so many ongoing projects in my country about mental health, everyone trying to shed light, and honestly I couldn’t be happier about this. The fact that they are trying shows that it’s never too late to start lending out a helping hand to those suffering.

My word to anyone out here trying their best every single day, fighting the demons and monsters in our head and trying to balance it all out, is that it’s okay. It’s okay to feel the way you feel, it’s okay to not having your act together, it’s okay to want to be alone, it’s okay to cry and let it all out, and it’s okay not to be okay!

Reach out to whomever you can and try and get help, try and get the suicide hotlines in your country and just call each time you have the urge to end it all. You know why? You’ll be fine! In the end, you’ll conquer it all!

Love and light.