Mental well-being suits us all

Dear Editor,

Mental health is a subject which we are only starting to scratch the surface of in Namibia and it is not talked about a lot. In fact, not to single out Namibia, there are very few places in the world where healthy, open and frank discussions about mental health take place.

However, in our country it seems more of a taboo subject than in many others. Especially amongst men. Women talk and share their feelings and emotional state of mind a lot more freely. We men just tend to grunt and move on. Pushing your feelings down and not dealing with them is the worst way of approaching your mental well-being.

Even before Covid-19 became an issue; people battled events, issues, socio-economic challenges daily. The pandemic has put mental health and awareness on the agenda for everyone. As humanity we were forced into living in a way that is not conducive to a positive mindset. The lack of touch, the lack of interaction, the lack of connection, the lack of daily routine has tipped the scales on our delicately balanced lives and mental health and not in a good way.

Mental health challenges are often spoken about as if it is something that others must deal with and suffer from. Certain people seem immune, but no one is, they are just better at hiding it. I personally at various stages in my life and career experienced spells of anxiety and even depression. The sooner that people realise this, the better.

Many people put on a brave face, dismiss the problems that they have or try and make them go away through self-medication with alcohol, drugs, or pills. They make it look as if outwardly nothing is wrong. The inner turmoil that everyone faces should not be bottled up, which is something I learned through personal experience.

But, how do you access help if you’ve never done so before especially considering it is not something that is spoken about? Where do you turn? The Internet offers some pointers, but the sheer volume of information leaves people feeling even more confused. A strong support structure in the form of friends and family really helps.

Sometimes, you just need a professional though. A psychologist who can assist in shaping those thoughts and redress the mental health balance. I have seen a psychologist on more than one occasion, when I was challenged with difficult questions in life. I must admit that I was scared about what people and my family would think if I see a “shrink”. But at the end it was not a bad experience, and I am glad that I reached out for assistance.

It is not a process that has a beginning and an end. We must embrace the notion of mental wellness in much the same way as we have embraced the idea of working on our physical wellness.

During this time when Mental Health awareness is on the agenda, it is my hope and desire that we can start a discussion in Namibia. Motivate people to examine their mental health and be healthy individuals mentally, as well as physically. There should be no stigma surrounding seeking assistance. It can do wonders for your work and life balance and for your general well-being.

We must also be mindful of the challenges that people go through at work, in their home life and realise that not everyone is built the same. Be kind to each other and check in on your friends, family and co-workers. Make it a habit and lend a listening ear, a simple sign of support can mean so much. I am reminded daily, that we do not know the battles that other people are going through. An encouraging word or gesture can do so much to uplift fellow Namibians, during this time of Covid and economic hardships.

* Written by Dr John Steytler in his personal capacity