How much does the African culture support mental health? In this short article we hear a perspective of the author on mental health in African culture.
Right off, it will be worthwhile to say that the African society is very communal. This is true for a majority of African countries. However there may be exceptions. By communal I mean that, it is not strange for your neighbour to walk to your compound to greet you. Also, social functions are an open to all sort of thing. This applies to funerals and in some instances weddings. A good neighbour will come for a funeral and even contribute financially without prompt. Simply, within an African home and especially in the rural setting, that is how communal life is.
Of course with urbanisation there is more of a shift to individualism. It would therefore be strange for your neighbour in an urban area to simply walk into your house without an invite and just ‘hang out’. This sort of thing is now reserved for friends, family, and close associates. This makes the need for discussion of mental health urgent.
How supportive is the culture to mental health?
Well, from a personal experience, mental health is not practised much in most African homes. I choose homes because that is where most times the culture tone is set. Speaking for myself, I look back to my childhood and I can pick out blatant examples of emotional abuse within my family. This ranged from verbal insults, gaslighting, physical abuse, domestic abuse and the list goes on. I mention emotional abuse as it makes for poor mental health. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) notes that ‘mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being‘.
As far as emotional well being is concerned, therefore, I would say from personal experience that this is not held in high regard in the African culture. Countless times have I heard someone describe their growing up with their father as a horrendous experience. This was mainly because the man of the home in the African culture stood unquestioned. He could choose to mercilessly beat their spouse. Being the was the man of the house, the quiet rule remained that no one should intervene in such domestic affairs. He could also easily neglect their parental responsibilities and result to drinking and that was that.
Overall, training towards emotional intelligence and wellbeing is a rare topic for discussion in most African homes until today.
But even worse is that people who need mental health support are stigmatised in society.
Mental health stigma?
I recall an incident when I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to go see a therapist as I was going through painful grief. My parents categorically resisted it. It was made clear that was a waste of money. The general vibe was also very negative. I ended up not going then but sort help much later. Suffice to say, no solution was afforded me by my parents for on how to deal with my grief even as they opposed therapy. To them, therapy was an alien concept that showed weakness.
I would therefore say, that due to lack of awareness mental health solutions, something as easy as therapy is rejected. Like in my case, therapy was shunned but who knows how much it would have saved me mental anguish that went on for years? I would therefore say that, creating awareness of need for mental health in Africa is key to breaking the stigma.
I hope you found this article on ‘mental health in Africa culture’ insightful. You can read more from Africa iShare on our blog. Also, join us for future discussions.