Break the cycle before the cycle breaks us
By Dr. John Steytler.
Recently I wrote an article about mental health and did so with my eye on World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day being celebrated on 10 October. The reaction and feedback have been overwhelming and positive. A lot of people I engaged with said they were unaware of how big a challenge mental health issues are. Furthermore, when reflecting on the Namibian suicide rate statistics it became clear that we cannot let things continue as they are. We must make mental health a priority, for the health and future of Namibia.
It is simple to just say we must make it a priority, but how do we go about it? How do we go about taking tangible steps as individuals and recognize as a nation that something needs to be done? The country’s suicide rate between January 2021 and May 2022 stood at 679, comprising 559 men, 91 women, and 29 children. It truly is a national emergency. This means that Namibia has the fourth highest suicide rate in Africa. Men, women, and children are taken from us before their time because they simply do not know how to cope, or whom to turn to when they most need help.
At present in Namibia, we seem to turn to drugs, alcohol, or violence rather than deal with issues that we are facing, which just compounds the problem. I believe that we need a total mind-shift, not just here in Namibia, but globally. This is why the theme of this year’s Mental Health Day is: ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority. We can take a little bit of solace from the fact that almost no country makes mental health a priority. We all have a lot to learn.
It is easier said than done, as I mentioned in the previous article, I’ve neglected my mental health and well-being. There are a million excuses that I use to assuage my guilt about not prioritizing my mental health. I’m just so busy! This probably sounds familiar to many. We need to break this cycle. When we are ill, we take a sick day, but I’ve never heard of anyone taking a mental health day when it all simply becomes too much. Many bosses would laugh you out of their office if you ever asked. There is a need for a cultural shift when dealing with mental health.
There’s no magic wand to wave, what I found was that I needed to focus on a few things and simply make time. The most significant of which was to learn to say ‘NO’. We have pulled in so many directions, trying to be all things to all people in every facet of our life, that when we do finally get to the safety and security of our home, we just collapse in a heap and fall asleep. Where the next day we rinse and repeat, never breaking the cycle until the cycle breaks us.
Namibia needs to take mental health seriously, as it impacts every part of our lives and impacts how we prosper as a nation. It cannot just be up to the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Every organization, company, school, university, and person needs to make mental a priority. Let the 10th of October, be the kick-off for a mind-shift in our country where we proudly make mental health a priority.