Unless you majored in psychology or have attended medical school or have been diagnosed, chances are, the bulk of your knowledge about mental illness comes from the television shows you watch, the articles you read or the movies and series you watch.
Mass media is one of the public’s primary sources of information about disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar. Unfortunately, most media portrayals of mental illness are stereotypical, negative or flat-out wrong. An NGO which seeks to correct all of this, by creating awareness and providing information, is called MentalWealthZA.
Following a break down in June 2016, Thabile Mpe (founder of MentalWealthZA) began treatment after her psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar type II. She had known for years that she had been living with depression, but like many, she had gotten so accustomed to coping with it, that she felt she had it under control.
As soon as she began treatment, she realized how much of a victim she had been to the stigma around mental illness. This is when she started Tweeting through her experience… from the type of medication she was put on, to costs involved and even about every day she spent at Vista – which is, in Thabile’s words “a great private psychiatric facility in Centurion”.
Thabile’s tweets then led to DMs (Direct Messages) and tweets from other people who had been inspired by her bravery and from those who had been suffering in silence. And so, this is how MentalWealthZA was born.
“From personal experience and what I had gathered from the tweets and DMs, I saw how much knowing that you are not alone in the battle against your own brain brought about a feeling of comfort to those living with mental illness. It then grew so much, so quickly that the need to extend it beyond a Twitter account became apparent to me. Now I am working with a team of amazing people to turn it into an NGO” she says.
It is no secret that many people living with mental illness (especially in black communities ) have been forced to survive under emotionally taxing conditions. Often at times they are perceived as attention seekers. This is why many keep mum about their pain and opt for what they feel is the easy way out, which is suicide. When we asked Thabile how she feels about this mentality, she said “As black people, we have a frightening culture regarding mental illness. People living with (undiagnosed) mental illness are made the lepers of society. They are accused of having been bewitched. They are accused of being weak”.
Thabile went on to say that breaking the incessant silence, through their social media account, is how they are going to affect change, in not just South Africa, but Africa as a whole.
People anywhere in the world watch as conversations unfold, that is the beauty of social media. Recently, a Twitter user in another African country approached MentalWealthZA about starting a MentalWealthTZ (Tanzania). It’s not “just twitter”, after all. Before we know it, there will be a MentaWealthAfrica reaching the international realm.
When African people see that black people are here, unable to “deal with it” any longer, admitting to not being okay – we will wake up to how prevalent mental illness is.
Thabile hopes to achieve three things through MentalWealthZA as an NGO:
— Providing funding for stays at the psychiatric facilities
— Creating awareness and providing mental health education
— Providing funds for psychiatric consultation with psychologists and/or psychiatrists
Not everyone is blessed with supportive family members and friends. Some people do not have the funds to seek professional help. It’s platforms like these that have helped and will continue to help many find solace and peace.
MentalWealthZA also welcomes volunteers. All vacancies available can be found on their website, which is firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also find them on twitter, their twitter handle is @MentalWealthJob.