By Wanza Githitho
I say that with love, of course.
When Simone Biles was all over the news, my mum posed a question that she says she came across on Facebook: is this generation being raised to be quitters?
Simone Biles’ radical act of choosing to not participate in five out of six events she was expected to compete in at the Olympics is what moved me to write this. However, recalling the recent statistics released by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations that 483 people had committed suicide within a span of the last three months, I felt like that fact was something I could intertwine to make a strong point or two.
Ironically, I am writing this on one of “those days”. I decided to take a day off school (a decision I am learning to be comfortable with) to check in on myself. It’s been one hell of a bumpy ride on rough waters.
Well, my mother is relatively better than *most* African parents in terms of matters concerning mental health. She lets me take breaks off school when I need to, and sometimes gives me a little push or jolt back to reality when I’m sinking in quicksand and need to get it together. I appreciate that.
I would describe her as a parent that falls in between old school and modern, apart from being a wonderful human being. Her question was welcome because I think it was an okay time to have that conversation and more conversations of that nature. We have had these and many other conversations from time to time, and I am actually proud to say that she has been making significant progress in learning more things about mental health matters. I think it’s cool that despite her being my life guide, she has a teachable spirit. That makes the magic in my heart.
Back to the question she had posed.
It was disappointing to think that someone on the internet thought that way. Of course, the floor is always open to express one’s thoughts and opinions about something, although RESPECTFULLY. Nonetheless, I fail to understand why some people find that Simone was wrong for opting to participate in one event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It wasn’t like she wished that upon herself. For all we know, she could have hurt herself trying to please everybody!
Upon deeper reflection, I wondered if I could apply that in my current life without the fear of judgement and being seen as a “softie” that life will surely rough up soon (by the way, I get that a lot.)
I understand the concern that that offensive question might have carried. I mean, if you are blessed to have caring parents, they sure do want you to win. They are on your team. However, I think that the African community as a whole should be acceptive of the need to take care of one’s mental wellbeing.
There are derogatory terms that exist in each community that are used on members who have mental health issues. Most of these communities have a value system that makes biological males who are grown up believe that they ought not to cry. Seeing a therapist or counsellor and expressing one’s feelings is said to be an act that is too “white”, something that we definitely should not emulate. We are Africans after all, right?
It’d be embarrassing to look weak.
Last week, the 483 suicides in three months made headlines. The usual “mental health should be taken seriously”, “talk to someone to get things off your chest” and comments about how tragic the occurrence was were broadcast.
It definitely is forgotten now, only to be remembered when another horrific occurrence of this nature happens.
In the African context, it was uncomfortable to talk about this. Despite that, we all hope that these cases suddenly fall and cease to happen. That is some other level of wishful thinking that is unfathomable. What, really, has been done to curb this? I heard that the Ministry of Health was in the process of creating some sort of organisation to help reduce the number of suicides, but how long will we wait for that? What is being done to help the overburdened and understaffed NGOs help those who seek mental health services? Why doesn’t the National Health Insurance Fund, an insurance policy taken up by the commonest Kenyan citizen, not cover therapy sessions?
To make a lasting impact, it should start with our older folk accepting the reality of mental health being important. Let it be known that the mind tends to fall sick too, just like you would catch a cold. That some mental conditions are treatable, and others manageable for a whole lifetime. That one ending their life is not a sign of cowardice, but a symptom of a mental health challenge. That no one is pretending, but that one is sick and needs all the help they can get. And for Pete’s sake, those people living with mental health conditions aren’t cursed by a higher power or unclean.
Creating an accommodative space where everyone, young and old, is free to make decisions based on their mental health wellbeing is paramount to reducing suicide rates as well as improving the quality of life that people live. One doesn’t require much to be happy.
Dear caregivers, this is for you. The ongoing pandemic is taking a toll on us, just as it is taking a toll on you, too. If only you could be willing to unlearn certain negative aspects instilled in you by your culture that downplay the need for mental health, everyone will be fine. Some of us have quite some unlearning to do as well, but we move regardless. We can do it together.
It is okay to see therapists and counsellors whether in crisis or not. It is okay for grown biological males to cry, just like everyone else. It is okay to quit a job that robs you of your sanity. It is okay to not want to bear children when it is still “early”, or not want children at all. It is okay to take mental health days when you need to. It is okay to be whoever the heck one wants to be. It is not bad to emulate our Western counterparts in indulging in self-care. Yes, Western people are emotionally intelligent, and it is not wrong to aspire to be that ourselves.
It is not wrong to look out for ourselves because life is hard enough. Nobody really cares. It wouldn’t hurt to also want something different for ourselves, because this life is a rat race that most of us wish not to partake in.
Dear African caregivers, our plea is that you respect the need for us to mind our mental health. Create that environment we know will not only benefit us but you as well. We all need that, and you know that.
To put it simply - our dear African caregivers, be our peace.
Wainaina, E. (2021, July 27). Alarm As 483 Suicide Cases Hit Nation in Just Three Months. People Daily, N.A.