The problem with the word mental health is the many incorrect definitions and meanings it has. Many people shy away from this topic because there’s an assumption that an individual with mental health issues is insane or mad. This insane and mad person is then linked to violent acts and behaviors; the society shuns them and are often afraid of them. What this means is that all mental health issues are then lumped into one big bucket, where a depressed person can easily be seen as a danger to the society. An individual who is suicidal faces an even worse experience, and they rarely open up because they don’t want this “negative” label and perception placed on them.
We know that suicidal issues have many causes, from:
Yet – even though we have the three categories above, mental health is majorly viewed from a bio-medical lens, with most solutions leaning towards a medical approach. We speak of psychosocial support in Africa – however, this normally comes with some form of prescription, even when there’s a difference between needing support and having an illness. In Africa, mental health is attached to a lot of stigma such as:
It stems from witchcraft
It’s a sin
It’s punishable by law, so people don’t want to speak as they are afraid of being arrested
It’s in your mind
It means one is mad or insane and is dangerous or can hurt others
It’s an attention seeking behavior
And so many others
All the above makes one not want to speak up, and so numbers become unreported and underreported. Because of missing data, the extent of the issue is not clear, so the solutions cannot be wholly accurate. Many families shy away from reporting any incidents of suicide as they’re afraid of the communities’ judgement and perception. If we don’t clarify the word ‘mental health’, then we cannot move forward and address this topic in an effective manner.