By Mpho Shelile

MASERU – Mental health isn’t just a conversation for people dealing with mental health disorders. It impacts our social, emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being.

What is mental illness? Google search states that mental illness is a physical illness of the brain that causes disturbances in thinking, behaviour, energy or emotion that makes it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Research is starting to uncover the complicated causes of these disease which can include genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure, experiencing trauma and/or having an underlying medical condition, like heart disease.

Often, because of misconceptions about mental health and mental fitness, people often suffer in silence and their conditions go untreated. Mental health awareness is an important social movement to both improve understanding and increase access to healthcare. Therefore, is crucial for caregivers, employers, parents, family members, and loved ones to understand the impact that mental health has on one’s daily life. However, while mental health conditions can make daily life more difficult, they also don’t have to prevent you from having a fulfilling and engaging life.

We never truly know how our actions impact other people, but if raising awareness can save a life, it is a truly worthwhile endeavour. While we know the number of people battling depression is likely much higher throughout the world than reported cases suggest, we also know that depression does not discriminate. Depression does not consider age, gender identity, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, partnership status, anyone can experience this.

In an interview with Mrs. Nthati Phakoe who is an expert patient in bipolar/ mental health activist and motivational therapist. She indicated that to be called an expert, he/she has to have experience and knowledge on how to cope with one’s  mental health, and  is willing to offer advice to other patients on how to try and cope better and to also instil hope that living with mental illness is not the end of the world, “ I was lucky  to be working with (TUNASAFIRI) which is an organisation which focuses on different types of mental illnesses, we basically offer different kinds of services; We have at our disposal professional counsellors, therapists  and physicians. We are also going from school to school teaching and raising awareness on mental health issues and the feedback we are getting is remarkable. This just shows how much people are willing to learn even though it might not be for everyone the few that do give me the motivation I need to get up every day knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life”, she said.   

Further stating that her role entails assisting new patients to accept and understand their condition better so that they can manage it, and thus far, she has been successful in doing just that. She went on to mention that statistically suicides caused by bipolar have declined over the years and people are showing up in numbers seeking help so they can better manage their condition. “When you still have symptoms a year later and they tell you that it’s all stress, this affects you psychologically, too”, said Nthati. “Because you really don’t know; you’re not a doctor. You try to find solutions, but there’s no one to guide you. Everyone’s just trying to treat you themselves.”  And I believe what TUNASAFIRI has helped in solving that.

 Adding on Nthati stated that improved access to mental health treatment, services and public awareness is of paramount importance. There is an important need for improved access to care, treatment, and services for those diagnosed with severe and persistent mental health disorders.

The general awareness of mental illness has improved over the past decades, studies have revealed that the stigma against mental illness is still powerful, largely due to media stereotypes and lack of education. People tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions. Stigma and misinformation can get overwhelming for people struggling with mental health conditions.

Showingindividuals respect and acceptance removes a significant barrier to successfully coping with their illness. Having people see you as an individual and not as your illness can make the biggest difference for someone who is struggling with their mental health. Advocating within circles of friends helps assure these individuals that the same rights and opportunities as others apply to them. Learning more about mental illness allows us to provide helpful support to those affected in our families and communities.

Social media is a community on its own, and  people on those platforms have excess to timeless information, biases, opinions and more. And some people can take certain information personally, and this can provoke a response to an already existing mental illness patient. So people are urged to be cautious and considerate when sharing their opinions.