Mental Health – Why the stigma persists…

Boitumelo Maswabi
OPINIONS FROM: Mamvura, Kube, Nkwe & Kerekang

October 10th marked International Mental Health Awareness day.

This year’s theme, as chosen by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is: ‘Make mental health & well-being for all a Global Priority’.

As we all know, the Covid crisis affected us, not just economically but also socially and psychologically. To compound matters, the world continues to grapple with the rising cost of food and other commodities, a result of the Russia/Ukraine war; it is a reality that threatens our ability to cope with the stresses of life!

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Voice Woman ventured onto the streets of Gabz to find out if Batswana women can openly discuss this taboo subject and why mental health stigma still exists.

Mental Health – Why the stigma persists...
Gorata Nkwe, 25, Tlokweng

Mental Health stigma exists for the sole reason that people perceive sufferers as though they are retarded or social misfits.

Generally, people associate it with those who walk along the road looking disheveled and dotty.

What many fail to realise is that anxiety and depression, if left unchecked or untreated, can lead to such extreme cases of mental disorders.

When you open up to a friend or parents that you are depressed, they think you’re just being unreasonable or an attention-seeker.

You’ll get such responses like, “But you have Internet at home … you’ve a boyfriend… we are providing for your needs, so why would you be depressed? You should instead be grateful!” They don’t believe you can be stressed!

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As it is, I believe I have anxiety.

It’s possibly because I’m unemployed.

I graduated two years ago but I’m still jobless.

Whenever I have to go out into public spaces, I become very uncomfortable because I begin to compare myself with my peers and start to think my life is stagnant while they are progressing.

Another issue is that when you visit the clinic for counselling, even the health professionals don’t seem to consider mental health a serious issue; they either dismiss you or ridicule you.

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Mental Health – Why the stigma persists...
Viola Mamvura, 48, Gaborone

I wasn’t aware Monday was Mental Health Awareness Day.

Our African societies believe people suffer mental illnesses as a result of retribution carried out by those they’ve wronged after they consult witch doctors.

This is why sufferers are hardly assisted by even their own families; it is almost as if they accept that perhaps the sufferer deserves it.

There’s this belief that cattle-rustlers, particularly, usually end up ‘loony’ because of witchcraft.

Mental Health – Why the stigma persists...
Lady Kerekang, 46, Lotlhakane West

People live in denial of their circumstances.

They refuse to acknowledge they have a problem.

Negative attitudes towards victims of mental conditions are rife; as a result, sufferers experience discrimination, so that could be the other reason.

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As such, this hinders those affected from seeking help in the early stages of psychological disorders.

Ignorance is a disease in itself.

Batswana, generally, are not well-informed concerning issues of mental health.

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I advise Batswana to learn to address issues early and get in the habit of seeking counselling, lest they risk developing severe forms of mental disorders.

I would hasten to approach counselling facilities, or even my own doctor for assistance.

Mental Health – Why the stigma persists...
Lillian Kube, 43, Morwa

One reason people seldom consult counsellors when faced with the risk of losing it is pride; ‘batho ba tla reng if I visit Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital for medical attention?’

That’s our biggest problem.

Despite the many challenges we face, Batswana are really wary of seeking help for fear of being labelled weak or psychologically dysfunctional.

I would never allow myself to be overwhelmed by depression just to avoid being judged.

Counselling is a crucial intervention and I feel existing facilities like Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse are doing an excellent job.

Batswana must refrain from thinking one has to visit the place only when they are in critical condition – you can just go there for counselling when battling mild depression.

Anonymous, 40, Gaborone

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Hei, mma! this is a rather sensitive matter I’m not sure I want to discuss.

We are struggling with a lot of depressive disorders in our lives.

Just talking about it is difficult!

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

It affects how we think, feel, and act.

It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood right through to adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behaviour could be affected.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

• Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry

• Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse

• Family history of mental health problems

Mental health problems are common but help is available.

People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

Early Warning Signs

Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health problems?

Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviours can be an early warning sign of a problem:

• Eating or sleeping too much or too little

• Pulling away from people and usual activities

• Having low or no energy

• Feeling numb or like nothing matters

• Having unexplained aches and pains

• Feeling helpless or hopeless

• Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual

• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared

• Yelling or fighting with family and friends

• Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head

• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true

• Thinking of harming yourself or others

• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school



Mental health services

The 300-bed Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse has four psychiatrists.

It opened in 2009 to replace the 180-bed Lobatse Mental Hospital, which had been in existence from 1938.

Sbrana is a stand-alone fully serviced hospital with teaching and forensic facilities and separate child, adolescent and psychogeriatric wards, a mother and baby unit and an observation ward, as well as acute, chronic and rehabilitation wards.

It has a day hospital, psychology, social work, occupational therapy and pharmacy services.


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