By Nomali Cele
16 Conversations came up as a campaign to get us talking again. Talking about the small and the very big things. And, for me, there’s nothing we talk about the least than mental health, mental illness and healing. I say this as someone who spent her late teens and all her 20s on the internet finding comfort and safety in communities with others living through various mental health illnesses and fatigues.
For all the online communities I found, speaking about mental illness in the physical world is something yet to be normalised. There’s a vagueness there or outright denial that would sooner believe that ill mental health is due to witchcraft or it’s a punishment from whichever deity. But it’s as simple as chemicals in the brain not being in sync.
I’ve had and known depression intimately for a long time now. Even before naming the condition as more than just sadness or moodiness as a 13-year-old. It was important to me, someone who’s found ways to navigate her illness and find ways to cope with it, that the conversation on mental illness is one led by people with different experiences. I am self-diagnosed, I am not on medication or in therapy. The five respondents sharing their experience of mental illness have had different experiences.
And because when you finally realise that you’re not just sad, that there’s something bigger, it can be scary. I asked each person, “What do you wish you’d known sooner about living with mental illness or what do want to tell someone at the beginning stage?”
Listen to five young Africans share their experience of living with mental illness and how they’ve learnt to navigate mental illness. Content warning for discussion of suicide ideation.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) offers resources and tools to help everyone — from those experiencing highly stressful situations to those who live with intricate mental illnesses. MentalWealthZA, founded by Thabile Mpe, offers “an online sanctuary” for those living with mental illness. It was Mpe who said her work is dedicated o showing people living with mental illnesses or currently going through a struggle in their mental health that they’re not alone.
The best way, other than through understanding and kindness, to beat the stigma around mental illness is talking about it. Start a mental health conversation with those around you. Silence leads to ignorance and stigma.
What do you wish you‘d known about mental illness sooner?