By Lij Teodrose Fikremariam
Source: Ghion Journal
It happened again last month; a young Ethiopian man took his life and left a devastated community in his wake. Two months before that, another Ethiopian killed himself and likewise left a trail of questions and grief behind him. These senseless acts of suicide are becoming altogether too normal, yet no matter how often news of tragic self-inflicted deaths greet us, when we find out the fatalities are Ethiopian, it is a jolting shock to the system.
The rise of mental illnesses is not something that is isolated to our community; as humans advances technologically, we regress further into the arms of isolation and eventual despair. Smartphones, social media and our incessant need to be connected is disconnecting us from each other. This sense of detachment has become a breeding ground for depression, anxiety and other forms of mental conditions that are severely impacting the young and old alike.
Yet, as much as sorrow, angst and mental ordeals as a whole are a human condition, there is a facet of mental illness that is more prevalent and thus more insidious within the Ethiopian community and most African nations as a whole. A culture that is grounded in saving face, making our families proud and succeeding at all cost has created a paradigm where anything less than perfect is looked upon with scorn. The unrelenting pressure to “make it” comes with a tremendous cost, when we struggle with the fear failing or disappointing others, the weight of the world falls upon our shoulders.
Add to this the fact that mental illness is treated as a most taboo of topics to begin with and what you end up with is a toxic environment where people who are going through either episodic or pathological mental afflictions are stigmatized. Moreover, though it is happening with less frequency, there is still a significant portion of our community that insists on placing blame on the victim and attributing mental illnesses to sin, life choices or demonic possession. Given these backdrops, most people who are going through traumatic hardships choose to go at it alone than seek help and some seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Even those who want to spread awareness about mental illness in a positive light end up contributing to the stigma without knowing it. Too often there is a separation between those who want to help and those who need help the most. When people fear judgment, the last thing they want to feel is pity or hear lectures. Yet this is…