Recently, I have been plagued with a question. Will my exposure to mentally challenged individuals affect me? If so, how? Will it be damaging? Should I be scared or should I be proud of the work that I am doing?

A little background, in my work as a media officer, I have met a lot of people with mental illnesses; some illnesses that are strange to even imagine (dissociative identity disorder). It is a well known fact that talk of mental health is generally a taboo, especially in Africa. The fear of being affected has made me question myself when I see similarities between myself and for instance, someone that battles with depression. It is when thinking about this when I came across an interesting term. PHD. No, not PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) but, People with Hidden Depression.

I listened to a podcast which talked about this phenomenon. In it, I heard of a clinical psychologist who, in her career, had probably seen over a hundred patients with various mental health conditions. Interestingly, the psychologist also needed to see a psychologist after a while because of what she had heard over the years. To the outside world, she was a vibrant, warm, fun loving mother with an amazing job and husband. She was the type to volunteer to coach a volleyball team or the first
parent at a bake sale. She was hands on. She was always there for other people and not allowing others to be there for her. Over the years she had taken to self harm; either cutting herself or burning herself and expertly covering it up. She did everything that a seemingly depressed person is not supposed to do. So when she took a gun and shot herself, nobody understood the reasons behind it.

I’m not a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist and I cannot be impartial. I cannot remove emotion from it all. Yes, it affects me. Sometimes I cry as I listen to some stories but the resilience of people who, for instance, could have ended it all but decided not to, is quite humbling. Others who face so many “demons” end their lives and I shudder to think what they go through. 

Sometimes I am scared. What if this was my life? Would I be like this? Why her and not me? The truth is I cannot tell your story if you are facing some kind of mental illness. You are the only one that knows exactly what your story is and the only one that can stand boldly and say this is how I feel or think. For instance, in the above example, the clinical psychologist wore a mask. She may had faced some depression and anxiety but hid it well; so well that not even her husband realised it. 

I suppose this is the problem with being highly functional; YOU ARE STILL FUNCTIONING and therefore may not fall under that umbrella that only caters to those who are NOT functioning due to their mental illnesses. It is difficult enough that mental health is one of the underserved and
stigmatised burdens without having to question functionality as well. However, with the work that Gede is doing in conjunction with the government, these issues will be brought to light eventually.

Written by Zunzika Thole-Okpo