Mental awareness continues to be a topic that needs to be explored especially with the current suicide rate that seems to increase every year. One thing I’ve discovered as a black man is that mental health is shunned upon in black communities and I honestly feel like the right education and an adequate amount of information would save our black brothers and sisters.
At first, I used to think that the lack of information was only an issue that was prevalent in townships but over the years, I’ve learnt that it affects everyone, everywhere, but the black community seems not to be realizing how dire it is for them to actually dwell on it. I was under the impression that just a little more information would create awareness within townships and act as guidance to the decisions they take regarding mental health issues, and I still stand by that. We need to start spreading awareness in areas where information seems to be limited, or completely change the way in which we spread information to fit the methods in which these communities prefer to absorb information.
Black communities seem to have the wrong idea of what mental illness is, going as far as calling it “witchcraft” or a “spiritual warfare”. A mental illness can be defined as the inability to use your brain to its fullest capacity. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 3 South Africans suffer from some form of mental disorder and this is according to a SASH (South Africa Stress and Health) study which was conducted in 2003/4. It doesn’t matter how you choose to look at it, treatment is essential for managing mental disorders and there are a lot of facilities that offer free treatment, but information about those facilities seems to be limited. This is also coupled with the fact that treatment is frowned upon because it is expensive. How then does the government come in and actually make treatment accessible and affordable for everyone who is affected? The government cannot be held accountable if we ourselves do not speak up about the big elephant in the room. People are so afraid of being judged that they forget that their holistic health comes first, before everything else. The brain is the hardest working organ in our bodies; we are so quick to take care of minor headaches and stomach cramps, but nobody wants to be seen taking treatment for a mental disorder because it makes them appear “weak”. This notion has to change because, without treatment, we cannot reach a state where the whole nation is operating from a healthy state of mind. In the same breath, we cannot depend only on medication to bring us back to a balanced state of mind; we need to immerse ourselves in activities that fuel us with positivity.
The media, on the other hand, can be held accountable for the lack of information there is about mental illness. They’re so quick to report news on suicide deaths and depression but hardly anything is ever said about the solutions that are available to combat this epidemic. The media is very powerful because it shapes the way in which we think and it is this power that should be used to evoke emotion and inspire action. What we consume has a major impact on our daily decisions but it seems that no one is actually taking advantage of that. Yes, it’s okay to report suicide deaths and be active about bringing such concerns to light, but when do we start talking about solutions? When will the media start sharing the truth that the treatment of mental disorders does indeed work if applied correctly? These are questions that The Filling Station is looking to find answers to. There are a number of well-established organisations that place mental health at the forefront of their activities, but they don’t receive as much coverage from the media as possible, thus leading to people not even knowing that there are services such as free counselling and more than anything, that it’s okay to seek help. Mental health organisations should also be proactive in changing the dialogues around mental health. If there was ever a time that we needed such a change to be made, it is NOW. The media tends to focus on suicide deaths but nothing is being said about certain suicide prevention campaigns that actually exist. We need to consume positive news in order for us to prosper as a nation that is at a constant battle with the violent tide that is mental illness. When we can do this, the conversation can begin to change and social media platforms will also follow suit because we know how much power social media holds.
An active approach has to be taken in educating the individual about the skills they can acquire to better their condition and improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes you don’t have to be diagnosed to know that something is not okay, and even that is okay. It forms a foundation for the steps that you need to take in order for you to maintain your mental health, and also your overall health. Treatment is important, but treatment alone will not get you far, it requires commitment because mental disorders are chronic. Be committed to treatment and also be committed to learning more about your condition. Be committed to learning what your triggers are. Be committed to learning exactly what is going on with you so that you can avoid its adverse effects. Be committed to making the necessary changes to your lifestyle for the sake of your wellbeing. Where mental illness is involved, prevention is indeed better than cure. You do not have to wait until it’s too late to begin taking care of yourself, the sooner you start, the less you have to deal with on your own.
This also brings me to my next point, the importance of relating. We need to get comfortable with building relationships that allow us to be open about our daily struggles. It is okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to wallow in those feelings as well. It’s important to remember who you’re trying to become because that also guides your inner dialogue. We need to be able to rely on family and friends for support but they too need to rely on information to know how to handle us. If such information is not easily accessible then it becomes a challenge for everyone affected. We need to be able to understand what our friends are going through and accept them as they are without judgment because it is that judging alone that makes the battle so lonely. People tend to isolate themselves when they feel misunderstood, so it’s the responsibility of both parties to acquire as much information about certain conditions whether it is depression and anxiety, or ADHD and schizophrenia, it’s something that must be done. We need to actively seek information so that we can also be on the lookout for any threatening symptoms. Don’t wait until it’s too late to look for symptoms.
On Wednesday, the 24th of October 2018, South Africa poured out their tributes to Hip-Hop Icon, HHP who had spoken about failed suicide attempts in his interviews. These are the kinds of things we should be looking out for. When HHP opened up, chances are people thought he was looking for attention or an easy way out, because when you are depressed and suicidal, sometimes you’re called “lazy”. What most people do not realise is that him opening up was on its own a cry for help. Here’s another issue that seriously needs to be touched on: Men suffering from mental illness. HHP had shown symptoms of depression and for a long time was open about them, but the societal pressures that are exerted on a man seem to be multiplying. In most suicide cases, it is the men who are casualties and it is believed that it’s because they’re more brutal in how they go on about taking their lives, with some resorting to shooting themselves or jumping off a high building as compared to women who are most likely to overdose on deadly pills. This, however, shouldn’t take away from the fact that the individual found themselves in a position where they felt that suicide was the only option they had remaining.
Suicidal thoughts are key symptoms of depression. Suicide is terminal but the thoughts should be treated like the terminal disease they are. I took some time to listen to and read some of HHP’s interviews and I picked up a theme. A lot of men, like HHP, commit suicide because of their temporary inability to meet the expectations that are set by those around them. A lot of pressure is applied to men as they are the providers and are not supposed to show emotion but rather just “get over it” and work towards providing for their families. Men are not allowed to be vulnerable because “a man doesn’t cry”. Men are conditioned to suffer in silence because the communities we’ve been raised in sham them for being weak or sometimes “pathetic”. People are so quick to say “sort yourself out” or “pull yourself together” when in actual fact, they should be finding out exactly what the problem is. When someone is down on themselves, it’s vital to be careful with the words we use because they can have one of two effects: make them feel better, or worse, it’s never in between.
Because men are not allowed to talk about their feelings, even to their friends in most cases, this leaves them without a support system where their mental health is regarded. This is why they revert to self-harm which is another symptom of depression. They start abusing substances like drugs and alcohol just to escape whatever it is that they’re feeling at that current moment because it is taboo to express it. We need to redefine what a man is because up until we do that, we will continue to deal with the robots we create as a society, that destroy themselves simply because they aren’t allowed to be human. As parents, wives, sons and daughters, we need to go easy on the men in our lives; they’re already dealing with a lot. They deal with feelings of disappointment, failure, incapability, and we cannot keep rubbing that in. We cannot continue to dwell on their shortcomings instead we need to be creative about how we instil a sense of positivity in the men that matter to us. We need to educate ourselves about the symptoms that we should be looking out for so that we can be able to spot them. We need to support our fellow brothers and create a space that makes it comfortable for them to say “actually, I am not okay” and with that still be able to remind them that you recognize them and will play your role as a pillar until they can find their feet. Let us work together in redefining what a man is, rather than what society says a man should be.
November is the month of the man and we have some great content coming up, we start off next week with the theme Redefining The Man. Please make sure that you get all the men in your life to participate, you’ll never know how many lives you can save.
Have yourselves an amazing weekend, let’s have a discussion or a debate about this topic in the comment section below.