This Conversation Has Been Long Overdue... The African Home and Mental Home This Conversation Has Been Long Overdue... The African Home and Mental Home
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This Conversation has Been Long Overdue…

The African Home and Mental Health

Poor mental health in the African home is an invisible silent killer that robs people of their sense of peace, happiness and in extreme cases, even will to live yet is hardly ever talked about. I recently watched a video of a Kenyan mother grieving over her son that had committed suicide, and I just thought to myself, Lord, I don’t know why you made this poor woman go through what she went through, but please, may her son’s death not end in vain. In Africa and specifically my country Tanzania, as sad as it is, It’s not uncommon to spend years living with people in the very same house, yet probably know absolutely nothing nor even fathom the mental and emotional anguish and turmoil that they may be experiencing.

Is it that people just do not care? I highly doubt that. That poor Kenyan lady cared. However, looking back at the very foundations that most African families are built on, the silent motto seems to be “ignore the big elephant in the room until it magically disappears.” For some reason, pushing things under the rug and not addressing real problems that impact our mental health has been the norm.

But then, let’s dig deeper, WHY is this the norm? Is it due to years and years of power structures and hierarchies within the African family unit that make it almost taboo to ever question authority where we are conditioned to simply adapt the “when I say jump, you ask how high mentality? Could it be the negative connotations associated with vulnerability and it being mistaken for weakness? Or could it be the fear of judgment and exclusion that often comes when we express vulnerability? Or do we proudly repress our hurts by wearing our badges of resilience like martyrs who find pride in how much pain we can endure alone? The room for speculation is limitless.

Currently, there are several mushrooming religions and places of worship budding each day and these places are flooded with people praying and hoping for miracles while giving away their hard earned money, just to get a sense of “hope”. When will we start seeing this as the cry for help that it is? These places have turned into the refuge that people seek to help them cope with their emotional baggage and mental health struggles. Others out of desperation and confusion even seek out other forms of spirituality to try and find solutions out of their misery.

However, despite the many speculations as to why openly discussing issues pertaining to our mental health is such a taboo in the African homestead, one thing is clear, the results are tragic. From chronic alcoholism, manifestation of violence, suicide, drug and substance abuse to severe self-esteem and confidence depletion, the failure to openly express our feelings, mental health concerns and problems is destroying us.

Failure to address mental health issues at the family level also transcends to a much larger problem. Mental health has historically been neglected on Africa’s health and development policy agenda with most countries dedicating less than 1% of their budget to mental health. Absence of treatment for mental health is the norm rather than the exception. Yet it is an undeniable truth that mental health and physical health are inseparable. A healthy mental and emotional state is essential for a healthy physical state.

If one cannot openly seek help or feel free to express their hurts, trials and tribulations with the people who are supposed to be the closest to them where are they supposed to run to? Moreover, even when someone decides to take the bold step and confide to those closest to them, are these people equipped to handle this information with the right amount of sensitivity and confidentiality that is required? If healthier family dynamics and mental health within our homes are to be achieved, these are the life hacks that we all have to start learning to create healthier living environments within our families.

It is about time that the question of mental health becomes something that is discussed and dealt with in our family. Let us slowly start normalizing “checking in” with the people close to us and have open dialogues about issues that bother us. Repressed pain, anger and unresolved feelings manifest themselves in crude ways. Let us be the generation that replaces mental health stigma, with mental health support. 

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Hilda Tizeba
Written by

Hilda Tizeba

I am a lecturer and the CEO and Founder of a mental health organisation called Guided Path. I strive to eliminate stigma through education, advocacy and utilising the law to bring forth meaningful policy and legal reform in the mental health sector in Tanzania.

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