The African stigma towards mental health issues

By Sharon Byandaga
On 30 April 2019 at 10:30

Kuki Upapa? Because we don’t recognize anxiety and panic attacks as legitimate mental health conditions people live with. Abantu barahaze. Because we don’t see depression as a disease and we think it’s more of a choice. That Kid is weird, antisocial. Because the child’s mild autism has not yet been diagnosed.

In our society, there is a huge stigma towards mental health and its treatment. Few – to none – Rwandan children are encouraged to pursue a career in psychology because there is little demand in the field. But why is this? It could be the tendency we have to excuse depression for mere sadness, anxiety for drama, and schizophrenic tendencies for demonic intervention.

Without a proper understanding of mental health problems they might be dealing with, many individuals have a low quality of life, with many adults who have been emotionally neglected or sexually abused living with shame, trauma, trust issues, and relational difficulties. Many marriages that could have been saved by professional counseling crumble from within, while parents with children suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) wonder why their children can’t behave like other children in class. Many people enter abusive relationships and are stripped of all their self-esteem because they don’t know they are involved with Narcissists.

There is so much we could learn about ourselves if we gave psychology more weight and relevance, instead of it only serving as a tool to treat those already diagnosed with mental illness. There are so many addictions we could avoid. There are many marriages we could save, and deaths we could prevent. There is so much mental health awareness could help us with, but it starts with us understanding that these are illnesses like any other; being depressed is no worse than catching a viral infection.

It starts with us recognizing that mental and physical illnesses are all the same and differ in terms of the realm. It starts with us letting go of our pride and confiding in someone who can help us grow, and see that getting help is more of a strength than a weakness. We have to dismiss our common references to suicide being for the Western world and that mental health issues are not just a first world issue.