General

Aug 12 2022

Disturbing Mental Health Problems in Africa

Oluwafikunayomi Odusola

Oluwafikunayomi Odusola

Author

Mental health peoblems in Africa: Menacing black woman with big eyes and full lips wearing colorful scarf on head and dress showing her fist looking angry and furious at camera threatening with gesture. Emotional dark-skinned woman

When I told my mother I was depressed, she said it was because I spent too much time on my phone. She asked which husband, children, or business were making me overthink. And when I started therapy, she thought I was wasting money. 

That’s what the typical African thinks — that therapy is a waste of time, and there’s no fuss about mental health. Eat, sleep, and stop “pressing phone,” and you’ll be fine. So, it’s no surprise that there are numerous mental health problems in Africa.

Mental health is an important global issue, but it can be challenging to address in Africa due to misinformation on the subject. In this piece, I’ll explore mental health in Africa — causes of mental illnesses, problems surrounding mental health in Africa, and how we can combat these problems. 

Causes of Mental illness in a Traditional African Society

Many mental health problems in Africa stem from socioeconomic status and psychological orientation. Until we recognize and understand these specific issues, we’ll be unable to tackle them adequately. Here are the causes of mental illness in typical African society.

1. Poverty 

Over 490 million African people live below the poverty line of $1.99 (about 850 naira) daily. They can barely afford basic amenities of life like food, shelter, and clothing. The lack of good food, unstable income, lack of access to proper health care, plus a generally high cost of living put poor people at low levels of happiness and a higher risk of mental illnesses. 

3 young boys smiling at a window

2. Lack of awareness

Many Africans have the wrong idea about therapy. They think:

  • Only mad people go to therapy.
  • Therapy is only for people with serious mental problems.
  • Mental illnesses are punishments from God.
  • Prayers can take the depression away.

In fact, mental illness is considered a spiritual problem or taboo in some parts of Africa. These beliefs prevent people from speaking up about mental problems for fear of stigmatization.

3. Unrest

Some parts of Africa are constantly under attack from insurgents and terrorists. Most life essentials such as food, portable water, and basic healthcare are inaccessible for people living in those areas, except for those provided by emergency aid services and humanitarian services such as the Red Cross. 

In these situations, many citizens undergo a lot of mental and emotional stress that culminate into mental illnesses, which are further worsened by a lack of access to adequate help. Also, people who no longer live in those areas may suffer from mental conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by the intense trauma they experienced

Problems Surrounding Mental Health in Africa

African mental health problems stem from two main issues – ignorance and the general perception of mental illnesses. Most of the other problems affecting mental health in Africa can be found under either of the two main issues. Below are some of the major problems surrounding mental health in Africa: 

3 boys reading picture books

1. Lack of resources

One of Africa’s biggest mental health problems is the lack of available resources. Very few hospitals or clinics specialize in mental health; most people who need treatment don’t have access to them because they’re expensive.

Besides, there are insufficient mental health experts such as psychologists and therapists. In fact, for every 200.000 Africans, there’s just one mental health expert. This scarcity of mental health experts makes mental health services and care more expensive. 

Thankfully, organizations like mytherapist.ng believe that mental health care should be easily accessible and affordable for anyone, and they’re readily available to provide resources and support to whoever needs it.

2. Stigma 

In many African cultures, mental illness is seen as a sign of madness, a punishment from God, or a spiritual problem. Asking for help is also seen as a sign of shame or weakness, so many people cannot speak out about their mental issues because they don’t want to be seen as mad or inadequate.

3. Cultural factors

Culture is a large part of African values and affects how Africans view mental health. For example, some cultures believe that supernatural forces cause certain mental illnesses, and traditional healers are the best way to treat them. This makes people seek treatment from unqualified entities that may end up compounding the mental health issue. 

Mental health problems in Africa: A shallow focus shot of three African males with blankets wrapped around them

What Can We Do Better?

Most of the mental health problems in Africa stem from gross misinformation, so it’s necessary to spread the word about what mental health entails and why therapy is important. And if you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to contact us. Your feelings are valid, and therapy is a safe space.

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