Dr Mazvita Machinga
THIS article is about saving lives and stamping stigma out of mental health issues. We all have mental health and sometimes we develop problems and fail to cope with day to day life.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
This means that there is room for recovery if an individual gets early intervention. There is need to seek help when someone is experiencing mental health problems. But, sadly the issue of mental illness is a taboo subject that attracts stigma in our communities and people rarely seek help.
Stigma is based on negative views of people simply because they are seen as belonging to a particular group.
My experience as a psychotherapist is that individuals and families do not seek help and many households with mentally ill persons hide them for fear of discrimination andostracism from their communities. Stigma and discrimination adds to more suffering,social exclusion and disability associated with mental disorders. This stigma means that issues of mental disorders and mental illness remain a hidden issue equated to a silent epidemic.
The social environment in many of our communities is that families do not nurture good mental health.
This is why we hold seminars and awareness campaigns to equip communities with skills and knowledge to assist those developing mental health problems. Why should we fight the stigma of mental illness?
Stigma of mental illness and its consequences are the chief hindrance to the improvement of mental health and mental health care. The more mental health issues are hidden and the more people do not talk about them or learn about them, the more people will continue to suffer. It is important that as families, and communities we fight stigma. There are tools that exist for action against stigma.
We need to know that stigma towards mental health disorders does not stop at the individuals who have the problems. It affects members of their families, mental health services (and treatments) and can persist over generations. In fact it leads to discrimination in all walks of life and reduces chances of recovery from illness.
I am therefore saying it is everyone’s responsibility to fight stigma against mental health disorders.
As society we need to learn to refer people developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, post trauma, severe psychosis and others for psychotherapy and medical care. We need to make society tolerant of people with mental health disorders.
Dr Mazvita Machinga is a qualified psychotherapist in Mutare. [email protected] or 0771 754 519 and 0778838410.