Why do we turn a blind eye on mental health issues?

It started as the Sunday Blues. It was around four in the afternoon, and I suddenly felt unsettled. Maybe not suddenly, I think that it actually creeped up on me in the course of the day, and gripped me at around four. As the hours went by and night fell, it grew worse; I was in a state of agitation and dread. I couldn’t even join my family for supper; I just lay there in bed.

Why do we turn a blind eye on mental health issues?
Why do we turn a blind eye on mental health issues?

It started as the Sunday Blues. It was around four in the afternoon, and I suddenly felt unsettled. Maybe not suddenly, I think that it actually creeped up on me in the course of the day, and gripped me at around four.  As the hours went by and night fell, it grew worse; I was in a state of agitation and dread. I couldn’t even join my family for supper; I just lay there in bed.

I could not believe that the weekend was over. I went through a mental checklist of the items I had wanted to complete over the weekend but hadn’t- and I was frustrated. Actually, I was devastated: This is the end of the world type of devastation. I then thought about the bucket-load of work in store for me that week, and already, in my bed that Sunday evening, the ascending rays of the dawn of the new week were blinding. I was in a state of hopelessness and panic. I was overwhelmingly anxious.

Anxiety every Sunday evening to Monday morning became the norm for months. I swept it under the rug and pulled through. Or tried to. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety is an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, which can be disabling when it interferes with daily activities.” That is exactly how I felt.

The anxiety and despair didn’t just disappear though. Sunday Blues became Tuesday Blues, Wednesday Blues, even Saturday morning blues. It became more and more difficult to get myself out of bed and perform simple daily routines. Living felt like a mammoth task. I just wanted to sleep all day because being awake was painful and heavy. Sometimes, I couldn’t even sleep; day or night. I lost my appetite as well.

It affected my work, I would show up late, or never. The repercussions for skipping work did not bother me, because I was in so much pain but felt numb in the same breath. At that point #IDGAF was my motto. If you don’t know what that stands for, don’t ask me to spell that out; trust me, it’s for your own virtuousness. It affected my social life too. I started bailing out on braais (or let’s go ahead and be boujee) “barbecues;” my friends would make an effort and create activities which I love like shopping or eating (lol), whether out or at their homes and I would decline.

In one incident, a friend of mine was asking me if I had arrived home safely. In a nutshell, I replied by saying that I wouldn’t have cared if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t have minded not making it home that night; being murdered on my way home. What broke me was when this friend said, “Why are you being like this?” because I didn’t know why. And that made me even more despondent. Another friend asked me in another conversation, “why are you romanticising death?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “a state of mind producing serious, long-term lowering of enjoyment of life or inability to visualise a happy future. It is a period of unhappiness or low morale which lasts longer than several weeks and may include ideation of self-inflicted injury or suicide.” Therefore, if not dealt with, that idea of self-harm and suicide may become an action.

The Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health estimates that about 300, 000 Zimbabweans suffer from various types of mental illnesses. The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800, 000 people die by suicide each year; that’s 1 person every 40 seconds. The Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba stated in May of this year that at least 489 men and 147 women committed suicide in Zimbabwe in 2016.

So why does our Black community turn a blind eye to mental health issues? Is it because we pride ourselves in being “strong,” and so any sign of “weakness” is a “White man’s issue?” Are we afraid to admit to needing a little (or a lot) of help? Would we rather drown in our pride than shout for the lifeguard to come and rescue us?

I had some trepidation even opening up about this struggle. It’s so much easier for me, and more comfortable for you if I post an Instagram picture of my outfit of the day or posted another blog on a new fashion trend. These topics are uncomfortable; I didn’t want a “wah, wah, oh shame man” reaction and so I almost didn’t write this.  Even worse, I didn’t want the “yikuzenzisa” or “you’re seeking attention,” response that’s prevalent within our Black community when one admits to not being okay. Loving and well-meaning family could even reproach me for being too candid on social media and “exposing” myself. “You will make the devil/ your enemies rejoice by talking about your problems,” is a common phrase.

Speaking of the devil, openly admitting to being depressed; or having any other form of mental illness is so daunting within our Black community because it appears that anything we don’t understand is from the devil and so one becomes afraid of the “demon-possessed,” stigmatisation associated with mental illnesses. As a result, individuals who find themselves with various forms of mental illness go untreated, or are taken to the church to have the “demon cast out.” How about we cast this demon out by talking it out. Let’s not make mental health issues a taboo. We cannot heal what we haven’t addressed.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the theme for this year is, “Take A Minute, Change A Life.” Let’s create a platform where anyone and everyone is free to share their mental disorder experience, whether it’s primarily what they went through, are going through or even talking to someone going through a similar experience. Let’s listen and not sweep this issue under the rug. The first step in the right direction is effective communication.

Let us not be judgmental. Let’s start talking. 14 September is Australia’s R U OK? Day and other nations are free to participate. Basically, by taking part, we check on family, friends, colleagues; and make it okay not to be okay. That open dialogue is the first step to healing.

Let’s talk about the things that affect us, that way we can explore options. There is strength in acknowledging that you have a wound. We can now then treat it. After all, loosely translated in English, an infant carried behind it’s mother’s back that does not alert her by crying when in pain, runs the risk dying there; “umntwana ongakhaliyo ufela embelekweni kanina,” as the Ndebele proverb goes.