An Igbo proverb goes “the life of the river, the life of the fish. Let the river not dry up and let the fish not die”. This proverb aptly signifies the interdependency of life.
I look back to years gone by, when life was not so fast paced, and people related to each other on a more personal level. Life was not unfolding at breakneck speed. Tea was not in tea bags, but brewed from tea leaves. Coffee was not instant. Food was not fast – we had to wait quite a while for it to be prepared. People had time for one another. Human relationships are now more or less virtual. Very unreal.
Yes, the world has become so unreal that we have serious issues with our mental health. We feel so inadequate that we find it difficult to accept ourselves as we are. We are too busy “forming” so much so that we no longer know how to be thoughtful, caring and humble. We want to exude strength and hide our vulnerability.
We may look strong, act strong, talk strong but deep down we may be dealing with deep insecurities, with mental and emotional problems. And even if we are willing to admit to having these challenges, there is no denying that mental health stigma is just as debilitating as mental illness in our communities and social circles.
As events after the facts often reveal, when someone goes over the top and ends their life, broken hearts and troubled minds are masked by fabulosity and “got-it-togetherness”, scared to admit that they are troubled and need help.
At the same time, it also unveils deep judgment, specifically judgment about how we experience and manage emotional and psychological struggles. Deep sadness and desperation often characterise a choice to end one’s life. Common threads include unresolved childhood abuse and resulting trauma, a relationship with an abusive partner, heartbreak, grief and managing the difficulties of daily living.
Connection to family, friends, and community, as well as the ability to ask for help and resources when needed are protective factors against taking steps to end one’s life.
Effective treatment for depression focuses on increasing hopefulness and self-esteem through interpersonal connections. We should stop putting up a façade and allow our vulnerability to show. We should keep close relationships with our family and friends so that we can reach out for help when we feel we can no longer cope with the situations we are facing.
However, the question arises about what we do for those who are not able or likely to ask for help. The issue of addressing the tendency to end one’s life is complicated, especially when symptoms are not so obvious.
- Perhaps, there is a need for a closer look underneath the veneer of the well put-together person who apparently has everything, unflappable, never cries and always seems to be in control.
- We could look out for the tell-tale signs of moodiness, overeating, over-drinking, sleeping too little or sleeping too much, as these are likely indicators of metal health issues.
- We could try to find out if the person was sexually, emotionally or physically abused as a child, or even recently, or if they face unrelenting discrimination or stress in their day-to-day lives.
The fact is we cannot sit idly by when we see someone struggling. We have to pry, ask questions and let them know that we care. We should reach out and touch their lives.
The truth is that mental illness requires the community to identify, support and help the person get the care that is needed. Life is complicated and we all have our challenges, but we do not have to fall victims to them.
Written by Charles Anyiam-Osigwe.