The Problem with the Word Mental Health.

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:

  • Environmental factors
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Biological factors

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:

  1. It stems from witchcraft
  2. It’s a sin
  3. It’s punishable by law, so people don’t want to speak as they are afraid of being arrested
  4. It’s in your mind
  5. It means one is mad or insane and is dangerous or can hurt others
  6. It’s an attention seeking behavior
  7. And so many others

Underreported Numbers

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.

What is mental health?

Food for thought:

A major reframing of the phrase ‘mental health’ needs to occur for us to be able to address this topic on a societal level. How can we change the way others think and perceive the word ‘mental’?

Send us your answers to

Please make sure to include where you’re writing from.