One of the most dangerous phenomena in the African culture is constant messaging of “don’t tell anyone”. This is especially when you are having issues and tissues. It is known that whatever is suppressed like a pressure cooker, will either explode or implode. Imploding is dangerous as it affects the body and affect immune systems and nerves. Exploding is just as bad as it cannot harm to others and oneself.
In the case of mental health, many are raised with “in this family we do not take our business anywhere”. This is why I weep as I meet many women who secretly have suffered sexual abuse or verbal and physical abuse when young. The Body Remembers! In my experience family tries to resolve the problem quietly or simply shut it down leaving a person in distress when mental health enters their life. This is mostly due to lack of awareness. It is also made harder to deal with, by some cultural beliefs in certain ethnic groups of witchcraft. This can extend for some to church and deliverance services that can lead to trauma for sick people. It is necessary for our communities to come together to educate even the church leaders.
In reviewing my own journey with depression and infertility, one feels shame and guilt; until you sit across a therapist and work it out. Shame as one has failed, guilt because one is not a “full woman”, and one is their worst own critic. Comments like “she is seeking attention” or “it is not true” cause me to not explain the full extent of what my depression. When one is suddenly thrown into a hurricane, your first port of safety should be family. In diaspora and particularly if you are single, you will have to rely on the good wishes of others. The attitude still remains “keep praying”, “God will use your story mightily”. I believe there is a time of place for these answers however practical support is needed.
As I stare into the summer evening, I worry that what I feared “mental health” was a buzzword has become true. Previously there have been concerns on shortfalls in support for mental health sufferers in Children Services; the discharge of adult service users without support into the community and the shortage of front-line staff in social care and in the NHS. We seem to have short memories as the world headlines change literally every week. It was an increase of suicides, Brexit, COVID-19 and now the uncertainty with the economic status. It is alleged 2 million people have signed up to Universal credit. We are going to need all hands on deck as I forsee an increase in the need for mental health services particularly with the COVID shielding instruction.
To be an advocate for the weaker members of society is a calling. As I spoke to my leader Lade Olugbemi, of the Nous, a non-profit UK organisation, I had to revert back to our first conversation. My intention was to create awareness and shout it from the roof top that our people need support in the mental health services. There is also need for professionals to understand the cultural aspects when treating people. I chuckled when a psychologist told me they take the cultural aspects of service users. I challenged the person if she understood the genocide in Rwanda and what was happening in the Congo or the voice that the Christian service user was talking about. Incidentally I advised her not to medicate him to work with a respect church leader to help him, but this did not happen.
It is cooler now, and perhaps with some of us shielding it has necessitated us to recommit to what we intended in the first place. In the near future if things continue as they are, we will have to deal with an increase in the need for services and community support. We who have a story cannot be silent and have to lobby for more therapists that are reflection of who we are as Africans. This will mean lobbying for funding for training at professional and community level. We can no longer be silent.
PS I do not negate that one can see a white therapist, sometimes you will never get through if one does not feel safe. It is already a known fact that many do not trust the system, but again we cannot stay silent we have to help own get support.