'Don't judge when it comes to mental health'

A man who previously had a mental health disorder has appealed to the community to begin to address the issue without becoming judgmental.

The resident of Vailima, who spoke recently to the Samoa Observer on the condition of anonymity, revealed the challenges he faced living with depression due to past traumatic experiences. 

He said he didn’t know he suffered from depression and concluded based on his own experiences how suppressing the community can become to someone’s mental health challenges, often leaving him feeling isolated and alone, at times to consequently contemplate suicide.

“At one stage I just wanted to die, sometimes I wouldn’t eat, I was always worried about things and this affected my weight and my sleeping habits,” said the former patient.

“I was younger then and I didn’t know much about what I could do and I had family pressure and I felt as though every young teenager at the age of 17 didn’t have the problems I did.” 

However, he revealed that frequent conversations with his village pastor eventually led him down the path to recovery. 

“I spoke to my pastor who was from another village, consulting him every weekend to find ways to help me, it felt like only he could help me. 

“I was alienated and judged and it’s not a feeling I would wish on anyone, but I’m grateful for the little help I got…I am a new man now!” 

The challenging journey that the Vailima resident took is familiar to the Goshen Trust Inc. Chief Executive Officer, Naomi Eshragi, whose  non-profit organisation currently runs a mental health service. 

“Mental health is everybody’s business, everybody’s health and everybody’s responsibility, only when there is an imbalance of mental health, there is the consequence of mental illness,” Mrs Eshragi said.

“There is a lack of education on the topic of mental health…people hear mental health and think you have a problem, but that isn’t often the case.” 

And there are ways to combat mental health issues says the C.E.O. of Goshen Trust Inc. 

“Maintaining good mental health is also having good relationships; good friendships and good communication; having people participate; happily; cleanly; having a healthy positive attitude is good mental health.

"Consulting a doctor is helpful as well as sports clubs in schools can also help.” 

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. 

For the Vailima resident, he says recovery can also depend on how communities engage with them without being judgmental, as such interaction can risk the life of a vulnerable person. 

“In my own opinion, I feel that men deal with a lot more mental (health) related issues than women in Samoa, I’m not saying they don’t have these thoughts. 

“But when I was under all this pressure I used to be around a lot of alcoholics, we drank everything…this was just a way of expression for us, we would drink to release our worries and forget about our problems. 

“But from experience because of all the built-up anger and frustration, my friend was violent and abusive to his young wife, I hope maybe sharing this can prove something that we need to address this issue together instead of pointing fingers all the time.” 

In 2015 a study of mental health in Samoa titled “The Beast Inside Your Head: A Look at Mental Health Issues in Samoa” revealed that counsellors were not provided in most Samoan private, primary and secondary schools with the students instead relying on family, friends, faifeau (pastors), and matai (village chiefs) to help them tackle any mental health problems they are facing.

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