Mental illnesses are the least spoken-about disorders in children, especially among black communities. A child will be labelled as "naughty" or "stubborn" for being withdrawn as a result of a mental trauma they may be suffering from. Parents usually find it difficult to differentiate between their child’s normal behaviour and mental issues because of the lack of vocabulary for kids to express just how they feel. Additionally, family discussions about mental illness are usually swept under the carpet because of the stigma attached to it. In 2018, studies conducted by the Mental Health and Poverty Project researchers found that 16,5% of South Africans were suffering from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and that 17% of kids and adolescents were suffering from mental disorders.
UNDERSTANDING MENTAL HEALTH
Anyone can be affected by mental illness, which is why Hlengiwe Zwane, a clinical psychologist from Rosebank Clinic Centre, says we all need to understand our mental state so that we're able to tell if it’s healthy or not. “Normally, we talk about mental illness when something has gone ill. This means that something has gone wrong, but could be corrected through therapy, medication or behavioural changes,” she says.
NORMALISING THE PHENOMENON
Our views on mental illnesses are mostly infuenced by the society we grow up in, and the meaning that goes with them. “We need to acknowledge that mental illness has always been associated with witchcraft within black communities, which has always been the issue,” says educational psychologist Maurious Sipho Mthimkhulu on why the society still gets uneasy about the idea.