Mental illness must not be belittled

MUMBA Mwansa.

FOR a week now, Jane wakes up all grumpy and restless such that she simply wants to spend time alone seated in her room and attentively focusing her gaze at nothing.She has reached a stage in life where she has faced so much misery from her friends and family, as well as so much stress that she is slowly getting to a phase where she cannot cope with the happenings and cannot work productively.
These are some of the many happenings in our homes, work places, churches, and communities at large. But do we know that this is a mental health challenge?
At one of the KUPES Young Women’s Network gatherings, I had a chat with a clinical psychologist, Thembevu Banda, who specialises in counselling and psychotherapy for a wide range of health issues. She is keen on imparting knowledge to others on how to prevent mental illness, and I was among the many beneficiaries of this session.
The World Health Organisation clearly states that mental health is not about disorders but “a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make contribution to his or her community”.
Mental health, according to many experts, affects how we think, feel and act, as well as also determining how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. This component of health is very important in every individual’s life – from childhood through to adulthood.
Some of the factors that have been cited to cause mental health problems are biological such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences such as trauma or abuse (as is the case with Jane), and family history of mental health problems.
Did you know that if you are a shoe addict and you slowly begin to move from shop to shop for longer hours admiring and trying on shoes without even having an intention to buy, you can be a sign of mental illness?
Our culture has made us believe that mental illness is only when one becomes insane and loses their mind completely – as they are labelled to be mad. But no, there are certain things that we do which are early signs of mental illness and are normally ignored.
For instance, if all of a sudden one begins to eat or sleep too much or too little, or begins to pull away from people and usual activities, or is having low or no energy, or smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual, these could be signs of mental illness.
Not being able to perform daily tasks such as taking care of children or getting to work or school, feeling helpless and hopeless, yelling or fighting with family and friends, and experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships are factors that do not need to be ignored, too.
Therefore, there is need for family, friends and communities to encourage people to seek professional help from a psychiatrist when such signs are noticed so that we fight the escalating numbers of mental illnesses. Chainama Hills Hospital is one of the health facilities we can go to – remember having a mental illness does not mean one is mad.
To avoid mental illness and maintain positive mental health, let’s practise self-care, work on coping skills, connect with others, stay positive about ourselves, mind our physical health and, above all, get professional help.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail sub-editor and member of the KUPES Young Women’s Network.

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