There's No Shame In Taking Care Of Your Mental Health – Sangu Delle.
“Oh my God, stay away from him, he’s crazy” are some of the things people who have poor mental health have to suffer from every day. Mental illnesses should not be taken lightly because they are as potent as physical illnesses. If somebody is trying to take care of their mental health, it is daft and unfair for others to try and ruin their efforts.
Sangu Delle is a brilliant young man from Ghana who has had his fair share of experiences related to mental stigma. Here is an account of how he shares his experiences:
“People have real problems”:
Sangu Delle shares that his oldest and most prominent memories of advice against mental health was “people have real problems” and “get over yourself”. There is still a big misconception that mental health is nothing more than a joke, and (pun not intended) just in your head. Some people say that as long as the damage is not on the outside, it is not worth looking into.
Sangu Delle shares in his own words that, we African men never express our emotions – which also applies universally. Although first-world countries like the United States of America and Australia are dealing with mental health issues much more seriously than third-world countries in Africa, there is still a lack of consideration for anyone who has gone down the road of spiraling mental detriment.
The stigma of mental health:
We discussed earlier that people often joke around about their mental health. Sangu shares that because it was so common, even he used to joke around with his brother about “Oyibo” people (white people) and their strange diseases – depression, ADHD”. Sangu has shared various accounts of his experiences in his speech. Here are all three of them:
I am an African man:
The earliest instance of Sangu himself plunging into the darkness of mental stress was back in boarding school in New Jersey where he was studying. He had recently lost seven loved ones in the same month. Of course, anyone living in a first-world country would think this to be a very big loss that not many could recover from. However, Sangu was not sure of how to process these emotions and just like how “African men neither process nor express emotions” – he denied these emotions away.
Even when the school nurse asked about his mental health, his only reaction was “Is she mental? Does she not know I’m an African man?”.
Only drugs can deteriorate your mental health:
Growing up, the only definition of mental health that Sangu was given information on was that mental health will only be affected if you start using drugs. There was a common image that was portrayed in children’s minds by parents that a person suffering from mental health is “a madman with dirty, dread-locked hair, bumbling around half-naked on the streets” as quoted by the speech giver himself.
The stigma even went on to say that the reason people were losing their mental health was because of drugs. Parents would warn children through “If you even look at drugs, you end up like him”. Of course, this might have been a parent’s innocent way of protecting a child against the dangers of drugs, but it served as a constant reminder for children to never open up about their mental problems.
His best friend suffering from schizophrenia:
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where people misinterpret reality in their figment. This can result in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking behavior patterns.
Sangu shares that this best friend was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Instead of supporting him, their peers would say derogatory and demeaning things about his condition behind his back. Society has taught people that “when it comes to mental illness, our ignorance eviscerates all empathy”.
How does the world treat people with mental health?
Sangu Delle shares in his comedic tone that the people of Africa do not take the toll of mental health very seriously. From his own experience, he shares that psychiatrists were an extreme rarity in all of Africa. “In a country of almost 200 million”, shares Sangu, “Nigeria, for example, is estimated to have only 200 [psychiatrists].”.
Sangu even goes on to explain that 90% of all people lack access to any sort of mental treatment, even if they do speak up. They have to “suffer in solitude, silenced by stigma”.
Main “causes” of mental problems:
When asking the average man, a study by Arboleda-Flórez reveals that 34% of all Nigerian respondents cited drug misuse to be the main cause of mental stress. Some other interesting statistics include:
- 19% believe that mental stress is caused by a divine wraith and the will of God. Somehow, God is causing people to be stressed about their lives.
- 12% - which is a respectable number – believe that mental stress is caused by witchcraft and spiritual possession.
- Only a few percentages of people believe that mental stress is caused due to genetics, socioeconomic status, war conflict, or loss of a loved one.
How are people with mental issues being treated?
Various accounts of documentation done in Uganda, Somalia and Nigeria by the photojournalist Robin Hammond shows that people are demonized if they are suffering from mental issues. “Most African governments invest less than one percent of their healthcare budget in mental health” – which speaks a lot, considering “75% of global mental health issues can be found in low-income countries”.
Sangu jokingly explains a serious issue in Africa “dare to declare depression, and your local pastor will be driving out demons and blaming witches in your village” – which only adds to the ignorance of people.
What can we do about mental health?
Sangu shares that it is because of his experiences that he has become passionate about mental health. He shares that “all of us need to realize that our mental struggles do not detract our virility, nor does our trauma taint our strength”. “We need to stop suffering in silence. We must stop stigmatizing disease and traumatizing the afflicted” – which are powerful words aimed at both the society and every individual alike.
Sangu shares that if you are suffering from mental health issues, “talk to your friends. Talk to your loved ones. Talk to health professionals. Be vulnerable.” Because he wants us to believe that sharing one’s feelings is not embarrassing. It is not something that will make us weak, but something that shows that we are not robots but humans.
Sangu’s experiences can be relatable for anyone who is living in a third-world country. His final words show that there really is no shame in taking care of your mental health.