My friend Vicky Joel, runs the Circle of Hope Academy in Ondangwa.
This is a school for children suffering from a range of disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar Disorder.
ADHD for instance is a mental illness that is prominent amongst young children and it thus affects the way they act and focus. On a daily basis, Vicky has to care and teach children who are hyperactive, who are inattentive and have a hard time controlling urges and take a lot of risks. Because some of these kids are impulsive, they do things without considering the results or act before they think. With bipolar disorder, a child may experience alternating periods between mania and depression, this is marked by extreme changes in mood from high to low, and from low to high.
Vicky’s patience and understanding towards these children is amazing, especially in a society that disregards children and adults with mental disorders as we either casts them aside or label them as ‘crazy’. It gives me hope to see young people like Vicky breaking the stigma.
I had an interesting conversation with my friend Mateus about the need for a commitment towards assessing mental health in the workplace. Mateus said that we should make mental health assessments in the workplace a priority because, “some of us have problems we are not even aware of.” A poorly managed workplace, with a military-styled management, that encourages gossip and bullying while making no effort to incorporate personal well-being into the culture often results into a toxic environment that only elevates mental illnesses. In Namibia, because mental health is not given prominence, these illnesses are at times, for lack of a better description confused with ‘evil forces against me’ and hardly treated.
I said to him that I have anxiety (not the occasional anxious feeling), with spasmodic anxiety attacks and because I am aware of it, I am able to steer away from situations or rather triggers. Pacing myself, my work, activities, ambitions and how much I help others in a way that does not deteriorate my mental capacity.
While we may have been born and raised in a society that disregards mental illnesses as actual sickness, pretending it doesn’t exist – doesn’t make it NOT exist. First things first - we need to teach our children about mental health, which refers to cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being. Mental health can affect our daily lives, relationships and even physical health. The way you think, feel and behave is affected by your psychological and emotional well-being.
We then have to be cognisant enough, to teach our children how to look after their mental health from a very young age. This we do through modelling healthy behaviours as well as leading lifestyles that do not put strains on our mental health, after all it is better to teach through action than speech. With this said, schedule your child’s activities in a way that does not overwhelm them and be attentive to recognise signs of emotional distress in our children.
Occasionally, Naneni and I light candles, say our prayers and even though as a four year old sitting still through an hour of silence while listening to therapeutic music and meditation is hard, we try. She may not fully understand why we do what we do, but hopefully when she grows up, she will use some of these rituals to build her mental and emotional aptitude and also navigate her way out of stressful situations. I have introduced her to the concept of therapy because she accompanied me to one of my sessions with a psychologist. Just as we have family physicians, we should additionally invest in a family therapist. I am lucky to have Nikki Patricia Meiring, she is not only a psychologist but a light worker, doing angelic work on earth.
In the famous words of abolitionist leader and author, Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to raise strong children than to repair broken men.” Hence, as millennial parents we have the challenge and responsibility to educate our children with the information that came to us late.