Here’s what she should know
Early this morning, K Naomi tweeted that she hated “bipolar people” and that they should “choose [their] vibes and be about them”. Despite the variety of conversations people are having online about mental health, many people still continue to perpetuate stereotypes about people with mental illnesses. In honor of K Naomi and anyone else whose knowledge is sparse on mental health, here are some of the myths we thought we should break down about mental illnesses.
- Mental illnesses can’t be changed through personal choice
The idea that you can change your mental health through sheer choice is not only a reflection of ignorance, but also one of the many reasons people feel like they can’t talk about their mental illnesses. You cannot wish away, pray or believe away parts of your mental illness. If that was the case, obviously, we’d all get rid of our mental health issues. Mental health issues can be inherited, biological, psychological or be caused by socio-cultural or stressful life events that can be cured or treated through medication and varying forms of therapy. While K Naomi clearly does not understand what bipolar is to begin with, the mere fact that she thinks that someone should ‘choose their vibes’ is actually quite absurd.
Tip: If you’re talking to someone with mental health and you don’t know how to support them, ask them how you can help. Being there for them is already enough, but DO NOT tell them that they can choose to feel better!
2. People experience mental illnesses differently
It’s not news that people are different, so why should it be odd to hear that two people can have the exact same mental illness and experience it differently? The upsetting thing about K Naomi’s tweet is that it generalises bipolar disorder. Not only are there two different types of bipolar according to psychiatry, but people also experience their symptoms differently. Some people’s manic episodes can be more severe, while others experience more severity with their depressive episodes. That’s only one example, but it’s important to remember that it’s different for every sufferer.
Tip: While it’s important to familiarise yourself with mental illnesses by reading up on them, be sensitive to their uniqueness to every individual. ASK and don’t always ASSUME.
3. You probably know someone with a mental illness
Because there are so many stigmas attached to being mentally ill, people often avoid being public about their mental health issues and we therefore assume that it’s rare. In reality, mental health is not rare at all: According to SACAP One in six South Africans experience anxiety, depression or substance-use problems, 40% of people in the country suffering from HIV/AIDS have a diagnosable mental health issue and with the rampant crime existing in South Africa, up to 6 million people are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. K Naomi recently apologised for her tweet, and said “I was just trying to say that I’m tired of people who always switch up. It’s either we vibe or we don’t…”.
Tip: In a country like South Africa, where unemployment, crime, HIV/AIDS and other stress-inducing factors are high, it’s super important to be sensitive about issues like mental health. You don’t have to ‘vibe’ with anyone you don’t want to but try to be sympathetic and aware.
If you are going through a mental health crisis, know someone who is or would simply like to contact a counsellor, call SADAG on 011 234 4837 from 8am-8pm every day of the week.
For a suicidal emergency, contact 0800 567 567 or 0800 456 789 for a 24hr helpline.