What’s on your mind?

This Mental Health Awareness Month, start conversations that matter.

Mental health is complex, and that’s why we need to talk about it. Let’s eliminate stigma and work together in building communities that enable mental health support to those around us.

Written by Ncumisa Kunana; Images by Shubnam Shama, Dan Meyers, Brain Lundquist, Tyler Nix, Derek Anies and Anaya Katlego via Unsplash.

It’s 2021, yet conversations around depression and mental health still aren’t happening  among young men in South Africa. This has its roots in many social fallacies ranging from, ‘men aren’t supposed to show emotions’, ‘mental health is a white man’s disease’ to ‘uthakathiwe’ – meaning ‘you have been bewitched’. We live in a society where our elders shun mental health. The onus is then on us, the youth, to eliminate the stigma and work together in building friendships and communities that allow positive conversations that offer help and support to those around us. With the complexities of depression and mental health we elicited the help of NGO, The Bravado Movement, and psychologist, Walter Bradley, to provide us with a guideline on how to start positive conversations and create safe spaces.

Start the conversation

The Bravado Movement is an organisation founded by women that strives to empower communities by speaking candidly about issues that affect society – depression and mental health are at the forefront of these. This Mental Health Awareness month we spoke to the organisation’s founder, Tsholofelo Diale, to find out how they play their part in starting and promoting positive conversations around mental health. Their #adoptaboychild initiative tackles societal issues at grassroots level with boys in primary and high school by using voices of passion that are relatable and can speak to the root of the issues. “We find relatable mentors and speakers to share their personal stories around mental health with boys in order to create a safe space for them to freely engage with their peers,” Tsholofelo said.

Mental health runs across a wide spectrum, labelling everything can be overwhelmingly frightening to the boys because of lack of information. The Bravado Movement conducts research to provide accurate statistics of certain mental health issues such as depression as many of them think depression is another word for stress. “We create scenarios that speak directly to those in the room, this way boys are open to raising their hand and talking about what mental health issue they suffer from or at the very least, understand the symptoms of their condition”, added Diale.

Break the stigma

Tsholofelo notes that in their experience and engagement with the boys, they noticed that they all carry the stigma of ‘indoday’khali’- meaning a man doesn’t cry. During their sessions, they encourage the importance of being in touch with oneself and acknowledging your emotional and mental state. It’s impossible to seek help for something you aren’t acknowledging. The structure of the engagements creates an open space to speak up and not hold onto pain because you are a man – emotions are non-binary. 

The Bravado Movement always encourages their boys to get in touch with helplines that can allow them to speak anonymously if they are not comfortable with revealing their identity. Their anonymity ensures that they are guided in a manner that’s safe and will prevent any harm they may encounter. Friends may also enquire anonymously to seek guidance on how best to support their friends without losing their trust.

Find the words

We asked psychologist, Walter Bradley, to provide a few expert tips on how friends and family can create a safe space for their loved ones’ mental states. Finding the right words can be difficult and Bradley suggests listening is often the more helpful. “Listening to a person who is in a compromised state of wellbeing is often far more effective than the most well-intentioned words,” he said. 

When speaking with a friend or loved one, allow them to explore their feelings through your conversation. “Once they do open up it’s important to validate their feelings. A good way to do this is to repeat back what they are saying in order to check if you’re understanding them correctly,” Bradley advised. He also highlighted the effectiveness of making yourself vulnerable and talking about your own negative emotions in the past. “Without overpowering the conversation or making it about you, you help them to open up,” Bradley added.

Support and be supported

A strong support system is crucial when dealing with mental health issues. With technology at our fingertips, Bradley suggests creating a WhatsApp group of friends and checking in with them. It should be a ‘soft’ approach, he advises, and a weekly meet-up over coffee or lunch to touch base is a simple way to get started. “In building a strong support system, the most important aspect is trust, spend time with people you trust!” exclaimed Bradley. Spending time with people you trust is not only about actively talking about your emotions, but being in an environment in which you feel safe. “The talking will follow from the trust,” he concludes. 

The proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ encompasses the work by, and the advice from, the experts. Play your part in starting and promoting positive conversations around mental health, checking in with your friends, and practising awareness.