Addressing mental illness in African communities

In an attempt to break the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly in seniors, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), together with Aspen Pharmacare, held a Mental Health Awareness Day in Diepsloot in the north of Johannesburg last week.

Speaking at the event, Anne Rajcoomar, Sadag project co-ordinator for rural and outreach projects, explained that contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia is not a split personality, but rather a mental illness characterised by abnormal social behaviour and is often difficult to treat.

According to Rajcoomar, when it came to mental disorders there was still a stigma attached to it in the African community,Fourways Review reported.

She said a lot of it had to do with cultural and tribal beliefs.

“In many African communities, symptoms of a person who had the calling [sangoma calling] were very similar to symptoms of schizophrenia, resulting in many people living [with the disease] without being diagnosed,” she said.

Nono Maseko, a senior Sadag counsellor based in Diepsloot added that cultural differences in the African community also resulted in many African’s self-medicating or relying on traditional healers first. This resulted in misdiagnosis.

“Even after receiving referral letters from doctors, many Africans refused to get treatment and turned to sangomas or traditional healers,” she said.

Maseko explained that this was mainly due to lack of education on mental illness, cultural differences, as well as fear and mistrust of conventional doctors in many communities.

According to Maseko, such beliefs and attitudes made it more important that education and awareness of mental illnesses were addressed in such communities.

Rajcoomar added that it was also important that the community, as a whole, was aware of the different signs of schizophrenia.

“A lot of times the family needs to be the support structures, and they themselves don’t understand the signs and symptoms,” she said.

This according to Rajcoomar was the reason that many people were treated incorrectly.

She encouraged community members to seek help if they noticed these symptoms in their friends or family members by contacting Sadag.

– Caxton News Service

Originally posted on The Citizen

2 responses to “Addressing mental illness in African communities

  1. Good post. I know from first hand experience that sometimes we can’t see the forest because of all the trees. :( I can only imagine how much worse it is for the person experiencing the symptoms. Thanks for sharing. G-uno

    Liked by 1 person

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