a mental health day for africans - part II

About a year ago, one of my college friends, a Kenyan, took his own life. He was married, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, and had already defended his thesis toward completion of his degree.

Though I didn't know it at the time, he had been struggling with depression throughout his graduate program, was in counseling and on medication. Despite the interventions, one day it all went sideways and he hung himself, while his wife--also a close friend of mine, who had struggled with depression--was sleeping in a nearby room.

When the news came, we all closed ranks around her wondering what happened, what we could have done differently. Her husband had emailed or called a bunch of us the week beforehand, elated over the recent election of President Obama. He sounded optimistic about the future for America, for Kenyans, for everybody. Around that time I felt elated too--and also a nagging feeling that I should be doing more with my life. In contrast to Obama's accomplishment, my own achievements seemed particularly meager.

I have no idea if this same feeling struck my friend, but something made him take his life so close to the finish line.

If memory serves me, I've had at least two other friends try (unsuccessfully) to kill themselves, and friends of friends who have succeeded. They are all beautiful, brilliant, successful people, but there just doesn't seem to be a space--in American or African-American or African culture--to speak about what ails them. And I worry each and every day as more of these safe spaces disappear.

There are so many invisible disabilities, and one never knows what another human being is carrying around, grappling with, inside.

I often wonder what untold ailments are being carried by mothers, fathers, sons and daughters dealing with war, genocide, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, violence, abuse, HIV/AIDS, poverty--not to mention the mundane daily stressor of trying to get an education or find a job in economies with few, if any, available (like most of my cousins in Nigeria).

Everybody talks about going to church, but nobody talks about going to therapy. And I don't know of any NGOs that provide these types of health services, instead focusing on primary healthcare for children or ARVs for AIDS patients. I think there is a tremendous unmet need for a mental health day for Africans, for black people, for everybody.

I don't know whether any space exists for this on any continent anywhere.

1 comments:

{ Nanasei } | May 13, 2010 at 9:46 AM said...

I think part of the reason for the lack of "safe spaces" to address mental health issues is that culturally, we've been reared to be strong, not weak. And we've come to associate certain sicknesses with weakness so even if we're suffering, we deny that suffering. And by the laws of demand and supply, no one will try to set up a business (or hospital) to supply health services if people are denying they're sick.

Ultimately, I agree that talking about it has the effect of notifying capable people that supply is needed.

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