Managing mental health in Africa is very challenging because this issue is highly stigmatizing in our culture. Aside from the obvious challenges like poverty, tribal conflicts, civil wars and diseases such as HIV, malaria, and TB. One of the biggest problems faced by Africa is the lack of funding available to support mental health initiatives, as well as the scarcity in the number of psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health facilities.
I guess to sum up Africa's attitude towards mental health i would refer to a quote from Kenya's humour writer Ted Malanda, on the death of American actor Robin Williams, who committed suicide due to depression. In his quote, Malanda states that:
Resources to support Mental Health in Africa
In various African countries, only 1% of the budget is allocated on mental health. Moreover, according to the WHO Regional Office for Africa, the ratio of mental health workers to the region's population is only 0.9:100,000 which is extremely low compared to the global ratio which is 9:100,000. In addition, one third of these workers are non-professionals. Clearly, there's a big shortage in the mental health workforce in Africa.
Mental health misinformation
In many African cultures, mental illness is an uncommon topic. The differences in culture, manifested symptoms, and interpretations to these symptoms play a huge role why this topic is taboo.
Due to the widespread stigma about this topic, only a few higher educational institutions teach about it. This puts a limitation on graduating students who want to enrol in programs related to mental health. For that reason, there is a shortage in mental health workers in the region which subsequently leads to a limited access of treatment options.
Moreover, even if there are a few facilities and workers available, several families are hiding members of their families who are suffering from a mental disorder because of fear of discrimination which is rampant across the region. One of the biggest misinformation about mental health in Africa is that only weak people have mental health issues. There is also the wrong assumption that associates every mental health case with suicide. You have other types of misinformation such as mental health being associated with juju attacks, mental health associated with witchcraft and finally mental health being associated with religion. As a Christian you often hear the scripture "there will be no rest for the wicked". So many Christians believe that bad things only happen to bad people or wicked people are the only ones that can't sleep, are anxious or worried. This is preposterous and a myopic way of thinking, yet it still doesn't stop people from thinking that way.
Impact of Covid 19 lockdown on mental health
When Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, the number of mental health issues have significantly increased in Africa.
A survey conducted by WHO for dates June to August 2020 indicated that front liners and responders have reported symptoms of anxiety and depression due to working in high risk environments with little to no protective equipment issued to them.
In a similar survey conducted by researchers from the King’s College London entitled "The Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Implications for Sub-Saharan Africa" stated that the pandemic has led to several mental health issues because of the many challenges it brought to humanity such as job losses, discrimination and stigma to patients, physical distancing, and the lockdown.
What African governments and employers can do
Promote social interventions;
Strengthen peer support;
Equip mental health workers with adequate knowledge and resources to better help the people who are suffering from mental illnesses;
In line with Covid-19 guidance, equip frontline staff, first responders, and caregivers with enough training and protective equipment to better serve the public;
Employers must also include in their wellness programs the importance of mental health and how to conduct psychological first aid;
What regular people like you can do
Having enough sleep - Sleep is very important because this is the time that your mind and body get recharged. During your sleep, your body releases hormones that help repair damaged cells. Moreover, if you get enough sleep, your mind and body function better. Having enough sleep also boosts your immune system and mental well-being making you less susceptible to illnesses, both physically and mentally. To maximize your sleep, go to bed and get up at similar times daily.
Incorporating more self-care routine in your daily activities - The best self-care routine you can do to yourself include eating healthy meals on time, exercising regularly, allocating time for relaxation, keeping up with your personal hygiene, and making time to do things that give you joy. Doing these things don’t only make you feel good, but scientifically speaking these activities are proven to improve your physical and mental health.
Minimizing social media and negative news - Avoid reading or listening to news that can only cause you distress or anxiety. It’s also not healthy to spend too much time on social media, especially if you have the tendency to compare your life to others. Remember, social media is a place where all the fancy things and winning moments are highlighted so there’s no need to compare your current reality to them. If you’ll ever use social media, use it to spread positivity, show support to others and don't get embroiled in online arguments or disputes. Social media is not a true reflection of life, it is mostly a one way stream of opinion. You find that it becomes more frustrating when you see that your opinion doesn't matter much online, unless you are a celebrity, large organisation or influencer.
Keep in touch with those who love, support, and care about you - If you ever feel like your mental health is declining, connect with people whom you trust and you know will show unconditional love and support.
Don’t discriminate - People who are suffering from mental health issues need more love, understanding, and support. Show more compassion, don't make it about yourself, don't make it about religion, just listen and be supportive. I suffered from depression as a kid into adulthood, although i was never diagnosed in Nigeria, my friends always complained about how i always looked angry or reacted over little things. When i got diagnosed in UK, i told my sister who is currently studying medicine and she said its because i don't serve God the right way. I told my mum and she said i should pray, but when i told my older brother he said he is here to support me and if i ever needed to talk, i should let him know. In a summary, the only support i got in my family was from my brother, everyone else judged me.
Seek professional help - Don't hesitate to seek expert help. Don’t let the judgment of others stop you from getting better. After all, what you need the most is you. Let the experts help you get better so you can live life with the best quality. It is understandable that in Africa, there isn't alot of mental health support but there are support groups and materials you can find online to help yourself. If you search online at Mental Health support groups in Africa you will find alot of resources to help yourself.
Today, Africans have gradually become more open to seeking professional help and addressing their mental health issues. With all the problems the world is facing today, it is high time that African governments provide adequate resources needed to support mental health initiatives in Africa. It is fair to say that the statistics of mental health in Africa isn't accurate because people don't seek help and bottle everything in until they explode and someone get's hurt. Africans have to juggle their day to day issues in life with the lack of government support or hope for a better future for themselves and their families. Most of the countries in Africa are considered as developing nations and the social amenities available in the western world isn't available to the average person in African.
We hope you have found this article enlightening and now understand that mental health issues should be treated with respect and should not be trivialised by anyone. People with mental health issues need to be treated by mental health professionals and supported by family/friends through that journey. Being depressed, stressed or anxious doesn't mean you are losing your mind, it just means you need to take care of your mental health. If you are by chance losing your mind or suffer from a more severe mental health illness such as Schizophrenia, Multiple personality disorder or even something as bad as Psychopathy, then you do yourself no justice by not getting a diagnosis and early treatment which will allow you live a normal life.