Last year, my friend and I were sat at the back of a bus, on our way to Salima to volunteer at the Sand Music Festival. We were making plans of how our weekend would be, anticipating the workload we were about to carry and the fun we would have during our free time. While making our plans, we made a pact to share a tent, considering she was all I knew from the bunch of volunteers. At this moment, she decided to warn me about a condition she has which only happened to her during her sleep. She calmly looked at me and said, “Loui, I sometimes experience sleep paralysis and so I do not want you to freak out.” At this moment, I was both shocked and relieved. Shocked because I hadn’t met anyone apart from me who had sleep paralysis, relieved because it wouldn’t be a hussle to explain that I had the same. Before I could tell her that I had it too, she had already started to explain what it was, what actually would happen during the moments and all the information. When she was finally was done, I looked at her and told her I knew what it was because I had it too, and again, I saw shock and relief on her face.
When the phase of both of us having sleep paralysis was done, we went to talk about mental health issues in the country. She had expressed how church had helped to comfort her during her dark times, while my own was me dealing with everything on my own. But during the chat, and more chats I have had with more of my friends, I have learned one thing that I keep expressing each time, MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY IN MALAWI.
As of September 2019, at least 125 suicide cases had been reported to the authorities, with most deceased belonging to the age group of 16-40 years. It goes to show the many people that are suffering of mental illness in silence without having any help. Why, you might ask?
Well, I strongly believe it comes with the culture. Ever since I was young, the meaning of mental illness was someone who was crazy; there was not education of people that suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental illness. The Zomba Mental Hospital was nothing but an asylum to me; this was more proven when they would do street sweeping, picking up any mad man or woman that was just roaming around.
So imagine being 14 years, slipping into major sadness that seemed not to go away. Imagine feeling pain, crying and just secluding yourself without having any reason why that was so. Imagine having panic attacks over the smallest of things and just wishing the world would end. Imagine just losing yourself. That was me!
At 16, that was when I was fully taught about all aspects of mental health, I was made aware of what I was going through and was more aware of my mental space. But it makes one realize of the deficiency that is there, more especially to the rural folk who suffer such illnesses without knowing what exactly is wrong with them. There is a huge deficiency, not just in our health sector to make awareness of mental health and mental illness that affect humans, but to also provide mental health services to everyone in the country.
And while the health sector is to blame, we also need to talk about the internet age that we are living in where social media is popping. As lovable as social media is, it has its own issues which heavily contribute to the mental health of people. Being that it gives people the freedom to express their views on different social innovations and activities happening, it also gives them the freedom to express their minds on what they think of other people, whether negative or positive. It has also allowed bullies to easily find victims and bully them.
The funny and most horrific thing is how everyone then becomes a saint when news of someone committing suicide breaks out.
So as we commemorate World Mental Health Day, let us think about how everyone of us can contribute to suicide prevention. At the same time, we need to think of ways to pressurize our governments to ensure that mental health services are accessible to everyone across the country.
Remember, it is important to always check on your friends. Depression is not always found in people that seclude themselves, sometimes, the ones that smile and showcase how beautiful life is are the ones with the most damaging demons within.