Community Mental Health

“Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others.”

Community Mental Health

A community is all about connection. Can you have good mental health without considering the environment around you? No! The community heavily influences our quality of life. Therefore, mental health should also be viewed from a community or societal perspective. A Community is not just an entity or a group of people – it is a feeling. It is feeling connected to others, feeling accepted for who you are and feeling supported. Having a connection can help us feel wanted and loved. The only way to maintain the connection is through finding a sense of community.
‘Mental Health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community’ – World Health Organization. Wiseman and Brasher (2008) reflect this in their interesting definition of community well-being as “a combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political conditions identified by individuals and their communities as essential for them to flourish and fulfill their potential.”

This makes one wonder how mental health can be achieved in the community. Let me take you back a bit before social media, when we used to say it takes a village to raise a child, was mental health not achieved? I am not saying we did not have people with deviant behaviors but there was sanity in our society. A lot of currently “glorified” unruly behaviours were under check.  Then why did we choose to completely change the “software” instead of just upgrading it. For how long are we going to change the software and not risk losing the original forever.

A close look at a community as a whole reveals three attributes that play an enormous role in well-being:  belonging, support and purpose. Let me easy your mind by attending to why Community Mental Health is important? We are social beings and we are not meant to live in isolation. Community is critical for us to thrive, especially with the increase in life stressors we experience each day, loneliness and isolation will fast track our exit from the face of earth. Remember to love people around you, care to know how your neighbors are doing, love each other in the community after all we are all in the same bus on this life journey. Although bus tops differ but we are all going to disembark from the bus at a certain time.

A brief look on community elements that are critical to mental health below gives us the hope which all what we need.

Belonging in a Community

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, you know it can be a lonely experience. The community provides a sense of belonging – a group you identify as being a part of. This is different from conforming to be in a group. A true sense of belonging includes the ability to feel you are a part of the community as your true self. You do not have to change anything to be a part of the community, but instead you are embraced and appreciated for your unique qualities. Most children raised in the city fail to grasp this issue but going back to the rural village will remind you of the unconditional love and belonging which puts your mind at easy. Even after a long period of absence even 10 years, when you return the local elders will always say “mukomana wakauya, regai ndimbosvika ndimuone” meaning the young man has just returned from the city, let me visit him. The visit is usually characterised by the elders sharing stories on what happened during your absence and reminiscence of the better old days inter-paced by jovial laughter as you share some beer (typically provided by the young man who works in the city). After all sharing is caring! Everyone should have an opportunity to experience this unrestricted love which heals all life stressors.

 Support from the community

Who do you turn to when you need something? Having reliable people to call on when you any form of help or just to talk can ease difficult situations that might feel insurmountable if you were alone. Knowing there are people who are ready to support you makes you feel cared for and safe. It can even can improve your outlook on life. This goes without saying “do unto others what you would like them to do unto you.”

Purpose of community

People play different roles in the community. Perhaps you are the friend who enjoys cooking and can be counted on to bring a hot meal over when a member of the community is down with flu or the great oracle of wisdom who bears the solutions to all life’s challenges. These roles can give people a sense of purpose and importance as they contribute towards the betterment of other people’s lives. Having a purpose and helping others gives life meaning.

However, the community can sometimes thrust an overwhelming role upon one of its members, for instance you can end up feeling like a punching bag when friends or neighbors are in the habit of offloading their stress on you.  The solution is simple – just point them in the right direction where they can get help! Successfully encouraging a friend suffering from emotional distress and anxiety to engage a trained therapist could not only enable them to overcome their condition, but will leave room for other enjoyable pursuits in your friendship.

Taking Responsibility for Community Mental Health

Every community is responsible for its well-being. Barack Obama, a former President of the United States of America noted that “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Therefore, everyone should consider how they can contribute towards betterment of the community, in particular finding solutions to community challenges in view of what you have – knowledge, resources, positions and level of influence.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, 1 million people in Zimbabwe suffer from mental health illness, a figure which could have doubled due to effects of the Covid pandemic. As a responsible member of your community you should begin to ponder on the following:

  • What is the prevalence rate of mental illness in your community?
  • According to Mental Health Experts drug and substance abuse are leading causes of mental illness in Zimbabwe. What can you do to stop drug and substance abuse in your community?
  • Research shows that mental challenges can be treated more effectively and in a more cost-effective manner in community settings than in the traditional psychiatric hospitals. What can you do as an individual or community to push for establishment of mental health care facilities in your area?

Remember to always check on your family and neighbors, treat members of your community with care. Avoid littering the environment counts as much as taking care of your neighbor. Be a good companion to others.

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