As society continues to become increasingly liberal, matters around mental health are still taboo even as the world prepares to celebrate World Mental Health Day on 10th October 2018.
The theme for this day which has been set aside by the World Federation of Mental Health is centered around ending the discrimination associated with mental health problems.
Putting it into perspective
This discrimination has existed for hundreds, probably even thousands of years across in communities the world over. Some viewed mental health disorders as a punishment from a higher power and subjected sufferers to the most inhumane forms of treatment such as burning them to death or placing them in chained confinement in prisons and asylums. While there has been a massive decline in these extreme actions, there has been a much slower mind shift in the way society perceives and interacts with mental health issues.
People are less likely to seek help for mental conditions with the immediacy that they would for physical ailments owing to this stigma which is a direct result of discrimination. A recent study indeed reveals that one in every four Kenyans is likely to be faced with mental health issues in their lifetime but will find it difficult to receive professional help.
It is still quite difficult for people suffering from mental health problems to speak out. They will be called disturbed, crazy or even branded as lunatics. They may be denied opportunities for upward mobility because of the ensuing stereotypes associated with mental health problems when what is needed is empathy and management of their conditions.
So how do we go about ending the discrimination and related stigma?
One way of going about it is through the creation of awareness about mental health. We need to additionally to stop stereotyping and view individuals as human beings. This is critical in curbing prejudices and judgement and helps in eliminating existing misconceptions and replacing them with factual knowledge.
We additionally need to have a positive attitude to people suffering from mental health problems as they are equally capable of making important contributions to society. We can achieve this by focusing on their achievements and strengths while overlooking their shortcomings.
It is important to encourage anyone battling with mental health issues to seek help and treatment. There also needs to be increased advocacy aimed at creating further awareness about the issue while also dispelling the myths around mental health.
Many the world over have managed to overcome their challenges and lead productive, meaningful life. We have the ability to do the same and in the long run, put an end to the stigma.1