Growing up, I was not able to understand the circumstances that might lead people to mental health conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD or depression that sometimes make them want to take their own life. Is that an escape maybe? And if so, escape from what?
Mental illness and its implications are not in the preoccupation of a young mind. When we are young we have a positive outlook in life, but it is a superficial one that perceives everything as black and white. It is the “when you’re down, why not just get back up?” perspective.
I like to think that it is our innocence combined with our overly positive attitude that accommodates this narrow yet blissful inability to see the mental health conditions people struggle with. And it may also be this limited view of the world that tries to protect children from seeing the real world out there. Never grow up they say!
Mental health and mental illness are foreign concepts for many people during the adventurous teenage years when the temptation of experimenting with drugs or falling in love mix with starting to take some responsibilities. These times are often accompanied by strong emotions which gradually facilitate a broader outlook on mental health.
Coming from a typical Zambian society that commonly reinforces rigid and unhealthy ideologies makes the pursuit for mental health anything but easy. “Mwamuna salila” is a commonly used phrase most of us were exposed to at an early age. It means: “a man does not cry”. The question is then: what do we do with all of these emotions we are feeling? Sadly, for many people, employing unhealthy coping mechanisms like suppressing the emotional pain seems more acceptable to our society than the expression of our emotions.
I heard someone saying in my circles: “We were never taught to be happy”. This is the perspective of someone who spent years suppressing the emotional pain. So I am asking: Could the normal human condition be absolute melancholy? When did we stop being happy?
The external world seems to shape our outlook on life. We deal with growing responsibilities, challenging circumstances, drug abuse, failed relationships and they seem to drag us deeper into feelings of anxiety, depression and what sometimes feels like an endless stream of emotional pain. In this environment we are stuck in a negative space forgetting to actively pursue a positive mind.
It relies with every single of us to learn to pursue a healthier mind, because each of us is worthy of good mental health and a happy life.
To me, mental health is something we have to actively pursue through physical exercise, healthy eating, keeping informed about mental health conditions, as well as connecting with friends, meeting new people and thinking positively. And, yes, that means that we need to deliberately identify our negative thoughts and actively engage in redirecting our thoughts to a more purposeful and positive attitude, spending time alone to meditate, going for a walk, reading a book and giving ourselves enough time to sleep and rest.
We need to actively engage with our mental health in the same way we care about our physical health. It is important to understand that certain actions like drug abuse require to unlearn those unhealthy habits. It is also helpful to stay away from negative bias and ideologies. This can help us heal our emotional pain and can significantly boost our mental health.
I have learned that small but consistent actions towards a healthier mind go a long way. All we have to do is to start the journey. And if we fall along the way that is perfectly OK. As long as we continue to actively take care of our mental health we will be fine.
Lastly, as long as our thought process is correlated with our feelings and our behaviours we need to take care of our mental health as it can impact all aspects of our life and our entire wellbeing.
Written by – Emmanuel Lutangu
Photo by – Ben White, Unsplash.
We know that mental health can be a difficult subject to talk about so we are striving to create a safe, welcoming and supportive space for everyone. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health please don’t hesitate to reach out.
If you are unwell and need urgent help, please reach out for support straight away.