By Christopher Mucheregwa
(St Faith’s High School)
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is 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. Mental health is a broad topic and it encompasses diseases such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia amongst others. However perceptions towards mental health vary based on different encounters and interactions with people living with mental illness, culture and level of education attained. In the society the perceptions of mental health vary. Different beliefs include what people define as mental health, deem as causes of mental health as well the associated behaviors. Some people believe mental health is age related meaning adolescents/teenagers cannot be affected, only adults are prone to affection. However in reality depression caused mental illnesses have claimed many teenage lives. African traditionalists believe that supernatural forces (mashavi/ngozi) also have a hand in mental health. They also believe that one becoming mentally challenged is a sign of ancestors being annoyed by one’s deeds hence it is deemed a punishment from them for the person’s uncouth deeds and consequences should be accepted. In modern societies drug and physical abuse are also some insights on mental health. Some believe that procuring of a family member to attain wealth (kuromba) is another cause of mental health. In some religions, mental health is associated with unholy actions e.g. demonic possession. However some perceive mental health in regards to its associated characteristics of walking around in deep-rooted, tattered and filthy clothes, picking up garbage and talking to oneself thus people who do not show such traits are not mentally challenged. Some also believe that mental health illnesses are medically related e.g. either having hallucinations as a result of suffering from schizophrenia or brain tumors. The different perceptions people have towards mental health explain their help-seeking behaviours of either going to the hospitals for medical treatments or seeking help from the traditional healers. People with mental illnesses are seen adversely by the community. Stigma involves the undesirable attitudes or discrimination against people with mental illness. People with mental illness succumb to either self-stigma or social stigma. This stigma involves the discriminatory attitudes given such as not associating with mentally ill people, referring to them using phrases such as “he is useless leave him alone“, laughing and pointing fingers at them. People with mental illness also suffer from self-stigma. They isolate themselves as they feel ashamed of having a mental illness by withdrawing participation in community activities. Stigma towards people with mental health has serious and devastating consequences. These include reluctance to seek out treatment, poor quality of life, social rejection, isolation and worsening of psychological wellbeing but mainly low self-esteem. Some affected individuals also resort to suicidal attempts. One out of every four people are affected by mental illnesses. Numbers are increasing at an alarming rate in some countries hence awareness has to be raised.