It’s a new year, the buzzing word is “goledzwa” or “ngwaga o mosha”. This period has a bearing on people’s mental health in various ways. Some are gearing up for the year ahead whilst others are stuck in the disappointments of the previous years. The two situations inter alia poses direct consequences for mental health.
Those bracing gigantically for the New Year often set themselves for certain accomplishments. Setting resolutions is a welcome phenomenon but the crux of the matter is that they should be realistic and attainable. The problem comes about when we are unable to meet such expectations as we may start self-loathing about the failures. This often is a precursor to development of most mental health problems especially when the failure is not addressed effectively. As summed up by Andrew Carnegie, “if you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.”
It is quite critical for us not to wallow in the disappointments of the previous year as we surge into 2019. Disappointments harbours sadness, anger, anxiety and resentment which are cardinal features of most mental health problems. Depression and suicides are problems that most often than not are linked to failure to deal effectively with disappointments and failures. A good lesson can be of Nelson Mandela’s life in relation to prison sentence. Mandla Langa wrote about Mandela that; “prison, a place of punishment, instead became a place where he was able to find himself.
A place where he could think, indulging in the one thing that gave him a sense of self.” Mandela displayed immense fortitude; we can all borrow a leaf and make the best out of our circumstances and effectively deal with adversity.
Let us convey optimism in all aspects of life. We can continue with exercise, good adequate nutrition, self-love and financial management as those are some of the basic foundations for positive mental health. There is no health without mental health thus I implore everyone to prioritise mental health in 2019!
POSITIVE INFLUENCE OF CULTURE ON MENTAL HEALTH
An avid reader of the column engaged me recently and implored that I unravel how culture has an influence on mental health and in this segment will try usher a response.
As asserted by Satcher (2001), cultural dynamics do play a significant role in influencing perceptions, beliefs and practices of community members towards mental illness and treatment. Whilst there is a universal conformity to what entails mental illness, the illness is defined by what a certain culture perceives as abnormal pertaining to their values. Cultural practices can adversely affect mental health.
For example, robing a widow in black for a year is a risk factor to mental illnesses like depression as the clothes are a constant reminder of his/her loss coupled with many restrictions imposed on them.
The discussion will focus on those that promote mental health. During bereavement, we often gather at the family of the deceased to convey support with close family members even moving in to stay for a few days. This is indeed a buffer to development of mental illness as family support is critical in dealing with our everyday challenges. This gesture prevents social isolation which is a risk factor.
Poverty has previously been cited as one of the social determinants of mental health. Our culture has a practice known as “mafisa” which promotes helping the underprivileged. This is a welcome practice as it serves as a protective factor hence mental illness development being annihilated.
Batswana by tradition often encourage dialogue whenever an issue arises. “Molemo wa kgang ke go buiwa”, so goes an old Tswana adage. This augurs well for positive mental as individuals are able to catharsise feelings and there is conflict resolution.
Elderly people are often encouraged by our customs to stay with the eldest daughter. This prevents social isolation brought by “empty nest syndrome” and avail resources for quality health outcome. Studies have shown that when the elderly do not stay alone, depressive symptoms are markedly reduced.
These few cultural practices outlined above indeed shows that we do not need rocket science to promote mental health! The strategies our in our midst.
THERE IS NEED FOR A ROBUST SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMME
The 2018 PSLE, JCE results have been released and we are still waiting for those of BGCSE. In most of the deliberations post the results, mental health was never brought up as a factor of influence.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that mental health problems affect academic performance. According to a 2016 research paper by Dr Gerd Schulte-Kone, “about 10-20% of children have a mental health problem of some type.” Children and adolescents are often the age group that mainly attends school and incur these myriad of mental health challenges.
The challenges include learning disorders, conduct disorders, depression, ADHD, substance use problems, bullying which in one way or another affect academic performance of students. With the advent of mental health problems, students are bound to fail, become truant, skip classes and even drop from school. There has been instances of students experiencing anxiety disorders during examination time culminating in them in ultimately failing.
The various mental health problems highlighted above could have specific tailor made strategies to address them but there is need for a robust school mental health programme. Schools should not wait for a crisis to bring in the expertise of mental health professionals but rather strive for prevention as “prevention is better than cure.” Other strategies could entail the following;
Having a fully-fledged mental health department within the school set up
Periodic mental health screening of students
Rigorous mental health awareness training for all teachers to enable them to identify students with challenges
Having strategies to curb bullying
Integrating mental health education into the curriculum to nurture kids at a young age
Teachers themselves do experience emotional stressors in relation to the nature of their job. Teachers endure verbal abuse and is some quarters physical violence from students which may facilitate development of emotional and psychological problems. It is nigh we have mental health programmes within the school set up that also includes teachers.
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