Let’s Get Mental

My previous medical aid company sent out pop corn promo packs once with a sticker written “pop the stigma of mental illness” on it. The word play was smart, and strong I think. It hit it’s mark. The topic of depression is becoming less of a taboo with awareness raised around the issue after a celebrity commits suicide… and then we forget again, until we lose another life. We speak about it more, we hear about it more, we read about it more, but we still don’t fully understand it, we don’t understand  mental illness in general.

Would you tell an asthmatic person to “just breathe”? Or someone with cancer to decide that they want to be okay?  Asthma is the physical obstruction of the airways, physically affecting the overall lung function; so asthmatics use bronchodilators  and steroids. Cancer is physical representation of cellular mutations and so cancer patients typically pick treatment options such as surgically removing the cancer cells, radiation and chemo therapy. These and other diseases require rehabilitation… Why then do we think people that are mentally unstable can just get over it? I’ll tell you why. It’s because we don’t think of them as sick, actually sick. Which is what they are, they’re actually sick. They need to be treated.

Growing up in a black African family, mental illness was something we didn’t speak of, we didn’t consider it.You get stressed and deal with it, you get hurt and get over it, you’re not the first  or last to go through what you’ve been through. I remember the big deal that it was the first time someone from my family openly saw a therapist… years later, my mother asked me to go see a therapist. So yes, we’re evolving, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. In my matric year of Life Sciences (Biology) we studied the human brain. I was flawed when I learned that the brain is physically altered by mental illnesses and trauma, a chemical imbalance occurs in the brain, resulting in the brain physically changing as seen in the scans below, so the reactions cannot be helped by the sufferer. Causes differ from actual events, genetic predisposition, side effects of illnesses or/and medications and then some. This can happen to a 13yr old as much as 40yr old.

Like with most diseases, treatment is expensive. Here though, we can help a little:

1. Don’t act like you understand when you don’t, instead try emphasizing

 2. If you’re not in their exact shoe, you can’t know. Even if you’ve been in a similar/ same situation, you’re not them, therefore, you don’t know

3. Try to be patient, if you really can’t, excuse yourself until you can be helpful (not forceful)

4. Don’t second guess what they’re telling you they’re feeling. They’re feeling it, not you.

5. Remind them of their options for help, but don’t push

There are many tips online. If someone you know is diabetic, you research ways to help them treat their condition. This is the same thing.

Remember that mental illness isn’t just limited to depression. Anxiety is real; when anxiety sufferers think they’re dying, they really believe it! When PTSD sufferer has an episode, that scene and/or it’s effects are as real to them as the cause when it originally happened. Help where you can, if you can’t, don’t say anything. Your words and reactions could be the finger on the trigger. You don’t get to call suicide victims selfish, in their heads, it’s the exact opposite, they think it’s what’s best for everyone, they don’t see another way out, they can’t. 

Now I know that there are instances where it’s all in the mind, but a) That’s not for you to decide and b) That’s not what this article is about. This article is honestly about the lives we’ve lost to mental illness, both physically and internally (even worse for the sufferer) and their loved ones, it’s about all the ones we can help save. Let’s work at changing the suffixes of this from “sufferer” and “victim” to “survivor” and “victor”.   

Peace & Love,

Tshepiso Molakeng

Quality Growth International  

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