Former scribe leads fight against mental health stigma

16 Aug 2018

The world is now battling a mental illness epidemic. Unfortunately, this epidemic is a silent one due to a stigma associated with professing that one is afflicted with mental illness. People with mental illness face many prejudices. For example, one may wrongly assume that they are unpredictable, violent or lazy and perceive them as a threat. Thus, mental illness still causes fear and embarrassment for some people.

Having survived a few depression diagnoses, Selemogwe reveals that she had to learn how to live with different ailments that came as result of depression. After being advised by doctors about the dangers that her work was having on her condition, she decided to quit her job and establish a nongovernmental organisation called Embrace Emotions Support Network Association.  She says she could not cope with meeting strict deadlines in the newsrooms as it was becoming evident that the workload was taking a toll on her worsening health condition.

“I had to listen to medical doctors when they advised me that I should reduce the amount of work I was doing. You know in our newsrooms there is no how you can survive because one had to feel pages before the paper goes to print,” she explained in an interview.

She further explained that when the illness began to manifest itself physically, she had to save the little sanity she had because no one could replace it if she lost it. “It’s not like a cancer patient who can get a prosthetic leg if the leg gets amputated,” she says.

After she heard some of the myths, beliefs and untruths about people living with mental illness, she realised that there was a need to raise awareness and educate members of the public about mental illness. This was when she formed Embrace Emotions Support Network Association whose main objective is raise awareness about mental illness and advocate for the rights of those living with mental illness.

There is a perception in the society that once any individual is found with mental illness, that person is rendered absolute incapable. Selemogwe said the society’s ignorance about issues around mental illness has led to discrimination against people living with mental illness which leads them being alienated from society.

 “As I look around myself I can see people living with mental illness who are living far worse than those perceived to be suffering from such because they live under pressure of stigma and discrimination. Hence I started an organisation in Botswana that will raise awareness about mental illness with a purpose of reducing stigma and discrimination attached to the illness. As we raise awareness this will help many people to understand and establish support groups that will play a meaningful role in our quest to support those living with mental illness,” said Selemogwe.

She is convinced that it is proper to play an advocacy role in an effort to impart knowledge among the general populace about the illness. If armed with knowledge, Selemogwe is convinced that many people living with metal illness could receive medication and become productive members of the society as opposed to them being despised.

She is of the view that Botswana has  not been spared by the new phenomenon  as the World Health Organisation predicts  that depression will be a number one burden of disease worldwide by 2030.

Already 2% of Botswana’s population is living with depression, a reality that Selemogwe believes more concerted effort is needed to help those who find themselves being exposed” to 20th century illness.”

“It’s a fact that if one lives with depression for a long time it could manifest itself into different chronic diseases,” she said.

The other challenges that Selemogwe fears could result in a serious problem in the country are suicide cases as a result of mental illness. According to her it has been proven that cases of suicide are the end result of mental illness.

 “We all assume that all human beings want to live. If someone takes his life something tells us that something is not right. It is a sign that shows a new phenomenon that we are trying to neglect. As a country we have given enough attention to physical health such as HIV. If you put up a proposal chances are slim for you to get funding. And if we were rigorous as we used to be on HIV we could have made progress so far,” added Selemogwe.

She is worried that due to financial constraints they are unable to travel country wide where they offer public lectures on a number of topics related mental illness. 

 She feels that more attention is given to other illness such as HIV since most of the companies that the organization approached always talk about their corporate social responsibility which is anchored in illness such as HIV/AIDs.

“Currently we have secured an office at Botswana National Youth Council but there is no furniture.  A good Samaritan who can help the organisation with furniture will have done justice according to it since we will operate conveniently with an office,” she said.

Selemogwe reiterated that the society perceptions on people living with mental illness are driven by lack of knowledge. According to her, this negative perception fuels stigma and this really shows that it would take time to accept them. She emphasised a need for patients to take medication consistently and go for psychiatric appointments as agreed.

A  Psychiatric Nurse, Mabedi Mosweu who is a volunteer at the organisation also called for care givers to support patients. Mosweu urged care givers to always be patient and show love towards the mental patients.  According to Mosweu there is a need for a strong relationship between mental patients and caregivers.