Before I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and severe ADHD, I was quite oblivious to mental health issues. Since then, I have gained a much deeper insight on how society views and deals with these issues. I have also come to realise how my words effect the way people interact with me, and how they view me as a person. Words are powerful. Which is why I have said publicly, “when I keep quiet, stigma wins – and I can’t let that happen”.
Stigma is something I have had to deal with on an almost daily basis – especially in the workplace. Over time, you learn to deal with it, but the scars stay with you. They act as a reminder that the stigma attached to mental illness is real.
I would say the biggest drivers of stigma in my country are a lack of awareness / information and harmful stereotypes. In Kenya, common misconceptions include ideas that people with mental health issues cannot recover, that people with mental health issues are violent, that we are incompetent and that we are to blame for our illness.
There are many negative economic and social ramifications attached to having mental health conditions – which can serve to further add to the stigma.
I am naturally a very vocal person. Before becoming a Champion with this global anti-stigma programme, I had spoken out about mental health on social media and I had also taken part in mental health advocacy.
However, now, I am part of a group of Champions who are challenging stigma on mental health issues. It feels like being in a big family that understands you – during bad times and good.
What is even more encouraging is the knowledge that in other countries the same thing is happening. I had the chance to meet with Champions from Ghana, India, Nigeria and Uganda. This event in my home city of Nairobi brought together five different cultures and languages, but the most inspiring thing was that we all found a common language, the language of anti-stigma.
This language knows no race, religion, gender, creed, or political allegiance. This common drive to end mental health stigma, bound us together as Champions and friends. We are moving forwards together to change the world.
For everyone reading this toolkit, I hope you can share this common language too. I think one thing we all need to embrace is that learning never stops. Amazing work is happening around the world to end mental health stigma.
Exchanging ideas and sharing the challenges faced in different countries will make all our work stronger.
The one thing I would love everyone reading this to know is this: Stigma hates conversations that challenge its’ existence. So, let us start having raw and candid conversations about mental health conditions and the stigma we are facing.
When we all start to do this, we will see a world where people with mental health problems are treated as human beings.
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