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Africa and the need for mental health awareness by Esohe Braimah

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as the state of well-being in which every individual can realize his/her potential, work productively, participate meaningfully and cope with normal life stress.

Mental health illness affects one in four people and it is a severe physiological disturbance that causes pain or distress in man. It affects all age groups and does not discriminate against race, economic status, or education. Mental health illness comes in different types which include mood changes, anxiety, and psychosis.

Mental health awareness in Africa is sort of a no-speak-about topic which means even when an African is handling life stresses badly, it is not considered important.

According to the World Health Organization, a study done in Uganda showed that the term depression is not culturally acceptable in society. While another study shown in Nigeria revealed that people responded in fear, anger, and avoidance of people who are believed to have any form of mental health illness.

In a country as populous as Nigeria with over 20 million citizens, there are less than 100 Psychologists. The need to spread mental health awareness in Africa is of utmost importance.

The nation has recorded its highest suicide count in Africa with 17,000 lives lost in 2016. One cannot help but think if preventive measures were put in place and professional help was made
available just maybe so many lives won’t have been lost.

There are different causes of mental health illness in different age groups. For young adults, mental health illness can be a result of academic pressure, the use of drugs, relationship difficulties, bullying at school, and cyberbullying.

In adults, mental health illness can be a result of a heavy workload, family difficulties, financial issues, and relationship challenges.

Mental health as a topic is considered taboo in Africa and we need to change the narrative of how mental health is seen. The government of each African country should invest in mental health centres and suicide prevention centres. Mental health awareness helps increase the chances of early intervention.

The recent pandemic has made it more prominent than ever how serious mental health awareness should be taken. A lot of people’s lives were disrupted; scenarios like this can lead to severe depression which can then result in people taking their own lives. Platforms and people need to start raising awareness on mental health so it is seen as an illness that can be treated and not taboo.

According to the world economic forum, an alarming number of 100 million people from Africa suffer from clinical depression, and 66 million of them are women. There is a need to look at the challenges of mental health in Africa.

An average man or woman suffers from money problems in their lifetime. The thought of how to make ends meet and keep the family afloat is always on the mind of every person and when these expectations are not met the said person can suffer from anxiety or in worse cases start to question life.

Different countries in Africa suffer from terrorist attacks, tribalism wars, religious wars, and when these situations occur the people living in that area suffer a form of mental illness which in most cases is trauma caused by what they have experienced.

Mental health is not a popular topic in Africa and the government budgets little to no money on mental health. It is understandable that Africa is still battling other diseases and she still isn’t a wealthy continent but simple measures like having a suicide prevention line or having therapists in public hospitals should be put in place.

How can you help spread mental health awareness in Africa?

  • Share mental health infographics on your social media pages.
  • Have an open discussion with people you know, and if you notice anyone committing any form of self-harm, do not ignore it.
  • The importance of a sound mental health should be taught in secondary schools, universities, and workplaces.
  • Volunteer for any mental health outreach in your area.
  • Be kind to everyone. Avoid saying hateful speeches or commenting hate statements on people’s social media pages.
  • Educate yourself and the people around you that it is okay to talk about their feelings.
  • Follow mental health pages on Instagram to be abreast of ways you can help spread awareness.

How the government can spread mental health awareness in Africa

  • The government can spread mental health awareness by budgeting more than they currently do for mental health. In Nigeria, a meagre sum of three percent is budgeted for mental health in the overall health budget.
  • The government can assist by creating suicide prevention centres in both urban and rural areas so it is accessible to all.
  • The government should start campaigns on mental health awareness.
  • The government should acknowledge mental health illness as a sickness and not a taboo.

Africa has a long way to go when it comes to battling the narrative on mental health illness, but with efforts from both the government and the people, we believe it is possible to eradicate the stigma.

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