By Kudzai Chasara
(St Ignatius High School)
We live in a society where suffering from mental illness is regarded as weakness and the societal norm is to bury struggles behind a smile simply because of the fear of being judged and defined by the mental health issues we face. Many children aged 12-18 are susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression as a result of academic and social pressures. The societal perception of mental illnesses is flawed and the impacts it has on the mental and physical wellbeing of us as Zimbabweans is detrimental. The society we live in has created an idea that strength is the ability to withstand struggle without seeking help, this has led many young adults into substance abuse and suicide. Many people fail to recognize that mental illness is not a choice but a disease which its victims have no power over. Most individuals think that they are outsiders looking in and they are immune, they fail to understand that these illnesses are more common than they to believe and they can occur to anyone. It is estimated that 5% of the African population aged below 15 years suffers from a mental disorder and that one in four individuals suffer from at least one mental disorder. I strongly believe that it is absolutely imperative to change the societal views on mental disorders and create an environment where people who suffer from mental disorders are able to seek help instead of suffering in silence. Stigmatization of victims of mental illnesses has created a secretive approach whereby individuals refrain from openly confronting their peers and family about their mental disorders with the fear of being regarded as outcasts and called names like “freak”. In the Shona tradition mental illness has commonly been attributed to weakness, people who are unable to process their thoughts and experiences as well as the rest are labeled as weak and individuals who suffer from mental disorders are said to likely bring dishonor upon their families. In fact mental disorders have often been written off completely and said to be non-existent amongst African households but only prevalent amongst whites who are viewed as emotionally weaker and susceptible. Experts have established tendencies in African cultures to view mental health disorders as supernatural afflictions that can be treated only through spiritual interventions. Such beliefs have instilled fear and have led individuals to ignore the symptoms of mental disorders which may result in severe long-term consequences. Over and above eradicating the stigma around mental disorders, it is necessary to educate people on the symptoms of mental disorders and how to approach individuals who may be suffering from mental disorders such as schizophrenia and anxiety. This will facilitate the detection and treatment of victims and ensure that they have an effective support system and they do not feel alone. That said, we must take it upon ourselves as Zimbabweans to be the change that we desire to see and ensure that stigma surrounding mental health comes to an end.