(by Ednah Khosa)
There is a different kind of silence, a silence we have grown to live with and make peace with. A silence that says “pray about it and you will be just fine”. October is Mental Health Awareness month in South Africa and this year we are working on the international theme of “Mental Health in an unequal world”.
There is a silence that appears in conversations when we talk about mental health, and we often hide behind spirituality or tradition in order to overlook the effects that mental health may be having on us. Mental health issues have long been present in all communities although we may have not had the correct way to define it and often it’s misdiagnosed as a calling into the world of traditional healers or the need to reconnect with your ancestors or maybe finding your way back to God. It is interesting that the government is now introducing the idea of traditional and spiritual healers partnering with psychiatrists to tackle the challenge of mental health in South Africa, which may turn out to be a bridge or a barrier in dealing with mental health.
According to the SABC News and SASOP, one in three South African’s will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, with over 75% of those going untreated. In a country with over 60 million people, South Africa only has 975 registered psychiatrists with the vast majority operating in the urban areas and private sector, while over 80% of the population is reliant on the public health sector with its limited mental health services. Statistics indicate that mental health has worsened during the pandemic with many being isolated and many more losing their jobs.
The change in lifestyles, cultures, norms, quality of relationships, as well as the rise of technology and social media over the past few years, has in various ways changed how we experience the world. We find ourselves in the driving seats of this evolving world, leaving us vulnerable, less able to express our emotions because in this world that we live in, communication is mostly at a touch of a button or a fingerprint, which does not in any way promote personal connections or deep connecting conversations. We are living in isolated spaces that are in no way good for our mental conditions.
From receiving over 600 calls a day, mental health facilities, are now managing 2200 calls a day, since the pandemic began. We live in a suspicious world, we can’t trust the people standing right next to us, we can’t leave our houses without masks, and we sit in isolation. Anxiety, grief and fear is what we live on. And yet, some of us do not have access to these facilities that are meant to save us and are too afraid to have these conversations.
Amid all of this, we are still working to accomplish life’s expectations, prioritizing tasks, adding, and taking things off our to-do lists, often working so hard to accomplish our daily routines and activities without even realising how much work goes into us having it figured out, how much of ourselves we shed off as we try win in everything that we do.
So, we take on a lot of work, we win at work, we knock off, we go back to our homes and the process begins again. When we get home, we get into second shifts, taking care of the people around us. We pray about how tired we are and sit in silence, burnt out with no idea what the amount of emotional exhaustion we may be experiencing is.
We desperately need to take a deeper dive into mental health in different communities, and create the space where people are allowed to speak about their mental health issues without being shamed. And we need to do this before it’s too late.