Mental Illness in the African Community

            I love being Nigerian, but one thing I do not like about the culture is the lack of discussion on mental illnesses. But I have found that this is present in most, if not all, African cultures. Let’s keep it short and simple: in African communities, mental illnesses simply do not exist.
            I remember when I was depressed and going through insecurities about my looks in eighth grade and spoke to an (African) adult about it. Her reply was “why aren’t you grateful for how God has created you” and this is a typical response to mental illnesses. “You are being ungrateful”, “you need to appreciate life more”, or “it’s all in your head”. I understand the care behind such words, but understand they do little comfort to the person suffering; and sometimes, it makes them feel worse. Mental illnesses need to be talked about because they are REAL. Take the story of Omotayo Adeoye, a high schooler from The High School for Math, Science and Engineering who killed herself after getting shamed from her teacher, who caught her cheating. Adeoye’s parents revealed that she was depressed, talked about committing suicide, and had run away before. Africans are not spared from life struggles, and that includes mental illnesses.
            I think part of the reason the African community is so disregarding of mental illnesses is the Christian stronghold. Many Africans tend to be Christian or Muslim; rarely will you find an atheist African person. They hold the belief that as Christians, you are supposed to have a good life: something like depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental issues are the devil’s work and “American” problems. And God forbid you seek out the help of a therapist, an act Africans find as an abomination. After all, only mentally unstable people seek therapy and why would you want to be seen as that?
            My only hope and prayer is that we, the new generation after our parents, will be willing to have open discussions about mental illnesses. That we will be willing to provide comfort to suffering long ones and not dismiss their issues as ingratitude to God.
- DaughterofZion