Concrete steps should be taken to address growing mental health issues

OPINION |

A prison officer who battled depression talks to his colleagues about his experiences.[Standard]

‘I feel depressed. I feel helpless. I just want to lock myself in the house and cry’, read a Facebook post in a group read in part. In the same group, someone else posted that they had been thinking about committing suicide.

We wake up every other day to news of people who have committed suicide because they have been seemingly pushed to the end of their line. The saddest part is that some victims may have been battling mental health disorders without the knowledge of those close to them. Friends, family members or colleagues of the victims then wonder how they could not have read the signs. 

Mental health has become a subject we can neither shun nor talk about in hushed tones. We cannot throw the subject under the carpet or fold our arms because we assume we cannot suffer from mental health disorders. A lot of people are struggling in silence when in truth, they shouldn’t because they can get help at any time. We should therefore, applaud those who come out to speak about their struggles. And in return, we should offer support to those struggling which is important if they are to get better and overcome.

In a recent article by activist Mariam Mell’Osiime Mpaata, she lists several warning signs that point the reader to checking their mental health. Some include feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness, crying frequently, no longer able to enjoy one’s favourite activities, inability to sleep, sleeping too much or struggling to get out of bed, loss of appetite, weight loss, thoughts of self-harm, death or suicide among others.

Whereas seeking help is the first step in overcoming mental health disorder, it is important to note that everyone has a role to play. As those struggling seek help, there is a need to have safe spaces in place for them. The safe spaces could be individuals or platforms that will embrace them unconditionally  and allow them to be vulnerable enough to share their challenges.

Some of the places that need to have safe spaces include but are not limited to families, places of work, and places of worship. There are some work places that can be overwhelming for employees and this may push some to high stress levels. A lot of staff go through a lot of pressure to perform and meet their targets.

It is important for employers to implement workplace wellness programmes that allow an in-house counsellor. The in-house counsellor becomes the go-to person for the staff should they feel the need to talk to someone. Such programmes can help inform what organisations need to do to help their employees cope with different shocks in their lives. In addition, an employer may also note areas to improve on to ensure the employees are in good working environment. This is if their stress may be related to poor working conditions among other issues. 

In our circle of family and friends, it is important to identify the people we can easily approach and open up to. But should one find it difficult to talk to a friend or family member, the government has provided hotline numbers for people to seek help. Our places of worship could also play an important role in ensuring people have safe spaces to seek help. Religious leaders could also be the go-to people for those struggling or alternatively, ensure there are professional counsellors in the places of worship that people could seek help from.

The government and the leaders at large have a role to play too. John Maxwell states that everything rises and falls on leadership. If the numbers of those suffering from mental health is anything to go by, then the leaders should step things up. They should be on the forefront to champion mental health awareness. Perhaps it’s time our leaders looked into setting up free mental health counselling centres just like the VCTs where people can walk in and seek help.

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