Mental illness is a health state where our minds find it difficult to cope with the pressures thrown at us resulting in a chemical Imbalance in our brains. Unfortunately, some of us battling with one mental illness or the other have often been misread or shall I say misjudged by people around us. This prejudice stems out mostly from our cultural disposition to mental illness. Our culture has refused to accept that mental illnesses are as a result of the structures put in place by the society itself.
Stigmatization of individuals with mental illnesses has been the reaction of the society since time immemorial. In-spite of rising cases of mentally ill individuals, we have not come together as a society that recurring mental illnesses have come to stay with us. It is obvious we don’t want to come to terms with individuals living with one form of mental illness or the other, therefore we become subjective whenever we meet people who at one time or the other have been diagnosed with a mental illness or whenever these individuals mention they have been managed by a therapist before.
In April, when the news of Avicii’s death, a world renowned musician broke out, there was a worldwide awareness campaign of the dangers of depression, one of the most pervasive mental illness around the world. Later, death reports revealed that Avicii died of self-inflicted injuries. An individual of such would be assumed to have access to a barrage of therapists at his disposal and should be able to pull through. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case as it could be easily deduced that “maybe, he wasn’t actually understood by many that surrounded him”.
In the ripple effects of Avicii’s death that spread around the world, a Nigerian social media influencer tweeted about the need to check up periodically on friends and family who have seemed to have withdrawn from social engagements, a response to this tweet caught my attention because the “tweep” stated categorically that depression was a choice, that a man has powers to live free of any pressure and that depression was not an illness. This sort of response shows the ignorance of many concerning mental illnesses.
On a more personal level, my teenage years was plagued by bouts of emotional breakdowns and turmoil. Being an only son of five children came with the perks of being misunderstood in all regards. Overtime, this misunderstanding degenerated into depression and at the same time unknowingly, I had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I wasn’t also privy of the technical terms of my frequent emotional ups and downs until I was diagnosed by a professional during my time in the university.
My academics was affected greatly and since this was the most important “task” I was supposed to be accountable to with my family, I was further led into an abyss of being misunderstood. Also, with family and friends also lacking basic knowledge of what I was going through, I constantly was asked for meet ups so my life issues could be discussed. The school environment wasn’t left out of this misconception as most lecturers who saw my grades would ask if I was into drugs without batting an eyelid. To these lecturers, only students who are involved in drugs should have problems academically which points out that being an academia doesn’t make one ignorant or have a wrong misconception of mental illnesses.
All the period I was without help felt like hell, I was scared of opening up to anyone concerning the things I was going through. I withdrew into my shell, and battled with low self-esteem. At some point, I was the topic of discussions by family, both home and abroad. I got calls from uncles, aunties and family friends telling me how I was a burden to my parents. These word were cutting through me like a doubled edged sword all those periods. I didn’t have any social affiliations in school. I was what you’d call a lone ranger. My troubles were mine and mine alone to carry, I cried myself to sleep most nights for years.
Just like I experienced, many people out there are constantly misunderstood by their folks when their mental health is concerned. Many are stigmatized and many more have refused to seek help for fear of stigmatization. It is our responsibility to make sure that people get the help they need, and they’re not stigmatized for getting that help.