“I Knew Something Wasn’t Right With That One”
Prioritising Mental Health Education for the Destigmatization of Mental Health Illnesses in the Namibian Community
In Namibia, we live in a society that shuns those afflicted by mental health illness, rather than provide them with the help and support that they need. In our society, the discussion about mental health is a taboo, suicide is rife and emotional and physical violence are the order of the day. I, wholeheartedly, want to change that.
Namibia is ranked the country with the fourth highest suicide rate in Africa and eleventh in the world. Over the decades, Namibia has consistently maintained one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Across the globe, the average suicide rate is 16 per 100 000 people, while Namibia ranks at 22,5 persons per 100 000.
WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG?
I think, the first issue is a lack of education. “Namibians don’t still understand the concept of depression, and there is a sense of shame about it, that is why they commit suicide instead of talking to or seeing health professionals that can help them get over it.” (Dr Shaun Whittaker, Namibian Clinical Psychologist)
Instead, we turn to alcohol and drug abuse to numb the pain and to help us “deal with” the troubles weighing us down. We talk about the fact that people are self-medicating and killing themselves slowly, but never why they are.
In our community, mental illness is simply just not taken seriously. When someone says they are depressed, they are told to “get over it” because they’re just “moody” or “looking for attention”. We tell people when to grieve and when we it’s time for them to get over the death of loved ones and other traumas because their grief has become inconvenient to us. However, we don’t offer any real support or counselling.
When the mental illness starts to manifest itself in more visible or extreme ways, we say its witchcraft or a curse and we stay away from the individual lest we also “catch it” like it’s contagious. It’s not until it’s too late; when someone commits suicide or murder or does something drastic, that we take it seriously. That’s when people say “I knew something wasn’t right with that one”.
We need to cultivate a culture where mental illness is destigmatised and the sufferers seen to be, like any other sufferers of any other illness; people who need assistance and love rather than as something to ignore, if not laugh at or fear. We need to stop using mocking and derogatory terms to describe mental health illnesses. We need to need raise emotionally intelligent, well-rounded human beings who are aware of their emotions and how to deal with them appropriately and more importantly, are aware when they are unable to and should (and will) ask for assistance. We need to stop saying ridiculous things like “boys don’t cry”!
It’s going to take some time to truly create an environment where someone can openly say “I’m depressed, I need help” or “I am hearing voices” and not fear being laughed at or shunned. We need to educate the Namibian public and that will take years, so doesn’t it only make sense that we start today? Doesn’t it only make sense that we stop waiting for something tragic to happen for us to say “I knew something wasn’t right with that one”.
By: Ndapewoshali Ndahafa Ashipala
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