Revive My Mind to combat mental health stigma

By Paulina Ndalikokule and Maria Hamutenya

AFTER battling depressive and general anxiety disorder and subsequently assisting those who suffer in silence from mental health problems, intern medical practitioner Alma Negonga found her passion for raising awareness against stigma surrounding mental health issues.

She established an independent mental health support organization, called Revive My Mind, which started in September 2019 with a successful launch event that shared information and advice to sufferers, potential victims and those indirectly affected by mental health problems.

Negonga said the shame and humiliation associated with mental health is an undoubted reality, affecting the lives of people with mental health illnesses, as well as those around them.

Research has shown that the fear of being labelled and stigmatised affects people’s willingness to disclose their illness and voluntarily seek treatment. The organisation aims to spread awareness and run a mobile mental health clinic to reach sufferers, especially in rural areas, and to reduce the shame associated with mental health problems, which come in many forms.

She said there are certain diagnoses that people don’t understand, which is then ascribed to witchcraft or the assumption that the person is “weak”.

“There are different diagnoses and not everyone hears voices or sees things that aren’t there, not everyone that has a mental illness has psychotic symptoms, but even the people that do deserve just as much help. I believe through this organisation we are going to help a lot of people get better as we have a whole team of professionals on board for this,” Negonga said. 

She said stigma associated with mental illnesses in Namibia is saddening. “One thing that people face is the discrimination when someone says that they have a mental illness, because in their mind they believe it’s craziness but there’s much more to it than that,” she explained.

Negonga added that although the exact causes of most mental illnesses are not always known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

“One can’t really avoid a mental illness, there’s different causes. It can be hereditary as well, but one can get help before it gets severe to a point where one can’t even recognize themselves anymore,” the medical practitioner said.

Negonga further added that treatment depends on the type of illness, its severity and what works best for the affected person. In many cases, a combination of treatments work best.

“If you have a mild mental illness with well-controlled symptoms, treatment from your primary care provider may be sufficient. However, often a team approach is appropriate to make sure all your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. This is especially important for severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia,” she said.

 She added that there is a widespread masculine toxicity in our country that men are not allowed to feel any emotions and they end up committing suicide due to unresolved trauma and worldly pressures. “I advise everyone to seek help for themselves or their relatives while it’s still early, especially men, so I urge everyone to come out and speak up.”

The organisation offers free psychotherapy sessions and also aims to start a mobile mental health clinic that will provide medication for mental health patients. They can also be reached on Facebook revive_my_mind, Instagram Revive My Mind Namibia and Twitter @ReviveMy MindNa for booking a therapy session.