People with mental disabilities cannot be forgotten

Macdonald Chirara

Mental disability is a condition that limits a person’s intellectual capacity, resulting directly or indirectly from injury to the brain or from abnormal neurological development. In Africa, people with mental and psycho social disabilities are among the most marginalized groups.

Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental disability. The discussions on mental disability are still insignificant and taboo in most communities. In years gone, there is still poor understanding of the subject, hence when most people directly or indirectly come across mental disability they are not physically and emotionally prepared.

This results in making them more vulnerable to the opinions and judgments they make, inherently leading to othering and alienation.

Three of the commonly known intellectual or developmental disabilities are Down syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The onset and chronic presence of a mental disability can be a stressful event or a crisis to the next of kins of the individual affected.

Studies have shown that most people living with a mentally disabled person have expressed emotional distress. Varying degrees of emotional distress that can be experienced include, having feelings of sadness and inner pain or bitterness.

Caregivers such as family members have experienced these negative emotions due to the disturbing stigma they receive from the community and social problems caused people’s perception about them being associated with a mentally disabled person. Most people who are mentally disabled have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names.

Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” or something they can control “if they only tried.” They have been illegally discriminated against, with no justice. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds.

The first step required to overcome most of these challenges is the need to raise voices against such stigma and othering. People should openly discuss and talk about mental disability. Different platforms such as social media can be used to run campaigns to educate people on what is mental disability and how we can include mentally disabled people in our societies. The vulnerability of mentally disabled people for being physically and sexually abused is an important issue that needs to be well addressed.

Also, there is a need to encourage equality between physical and mentally disabled people in accessing opportunities. People with mental disabilities are members of the society, and the social environment is an important determinant of outcome. If the social environment is favourable, it contributes to recovery and reintegration; if negative, it can reinforce stigma, discrimination and othering.

Efforts to enhance the involvement of local communities include disseminating accurate information about mental disorders to the members of communities by health workers. 

No matter how you contribute to the mental health movement, you can make a difference simply by knowing that mental illness is not anyone’s fault, no matter what societal stigma says.

You can make a difference by educating the other person next to you.

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