Please allow me to address an issue that we as Namibians tend to shy away from; mental illness and the reality of the lack of acknowledgement and subsequent treatment of it in our country.Growing up in Namibia, I have come to realise that we live in a society that that tends to shun mentally ill people, rather than provide them with the help they need.
The first issue is a lack of education and therefore differentiation by the majority of the population between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Generally, both words are used interchangeably to mean the latter. This, of course acts as a deterrent to individuals who actually just need to see the former, lest someone finds out that they went to see a psychologist (and this is Namibia, people find out) and they be dubbed “crazy”. In all honesty, at some stage or another, we all just need someone to talk to. Wouldn’t it be better if that someone was a professional? When we need legal advice, we speak to a lawyer. Why then is it that when we are struggling emotionally, we don’t speak to a psychologist?
The truth is, many forms of mental illness or distress are simply just not taken seriously enough. When someone says they are depressed, they are told to “get over it” because they’re just “moody” or “looking for attention”. When the depression starts to manifest itself in more visible or extreme ways, we say its witchcraft and we stay away from the individual lest we also “catch it”. It’s not until it’s too late; when someone commits suicide or murder that we take it seriously. That’s when people say “I knew something wasn’t right”.
We need to cultivate a culture where mental illness is destigmatised and the sufferers seen to be, like any other sufferers of any other illness; people who need assistance and love rather than as something to ignore if not laugh at. We can’t keep pretending it’s not happening when Namibians are taking their own and lives of others every day. It’s going to take some time to truly create an environment where someone can openly say “I’m depressed, I need help” or “I am hearing voices” and not fear being laughed at or shunned. Yes, it will take time to truly reform the thinking of the country as a whole, so doesn’t it only make sense that we start today?
- Ndapewoshali Ndahafa Ashipala