“I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that depression is an illness…In fact, it is such a non-issue that African languages never bothered to create a word for it,”
– Ted Malanda
In the african community, we close our eyes on multiple subjects. One of the subjects we actively chose to ignore is mental illness. It is common for an african to grow up and still not be familiarized with this subject. Not because it is not present in our communities but because we choose to disregard its presence.
Growing up in a community that had lived genocide and war, mental illnesses was still not present on the lips of my community. Although, the behavior of my community demonstrated the contrary. In african communities, we hide mental illnesses behind hate, consumption, etc.
When mental health manages to get out of hiding, our communities tend to seek for help in the wrong places.
For example, in Ethiopia about 85% of emotionally disturbed people were estimated to seek help from traditional healers (14) because there were only 10 psychiatrists for the population of 61 million.
Although, we should not put the blame on our communities only. Every aspect of our society should be blamed whether it is our education system, health services and government.
We trivialize mental health in our society by not giving it a voice. If we engage those conversation, mental health problems are portrayed as something minor.
We are taught to deal with it.
We are taught to push those feelings to the side and get back to real life.
We are often compared to someone/something that lived through war.
Even then, if we have been through war or escaped death, we are told that we are not dead yet.
Therefore, we do have those conversations but they are not held correctly. They are not safe conversation.
They are not the conversations we need.
Mental health is a conversation that needs to occur especially in our african communities.