By Sesugh Akume
A few years ago circa 2012 or so, I was at a psychiatric hospital to consult a psychologist. I knew I was not well and it was not something drugs or herbal supplements could help with. The slight headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, low energy, and so forth would not just go away. At the hospital everyone was looking at me in a certain manner. They kept asking if I wanted to see the doctor, I said no, it was the psychologist I wanted to see. If it got to seeing a the doctor, I would.
I went through the process and ended in front of a psychiatrist. I asked the quack who ‘helped’ me with the process if he thought I did not know the difference between a shrink and a psychiatrist, or if I was not clear enough all the while? Well,I did talk to the psychiatrist who then referred me to the shrink.
I had 3 hours with her the first time, the next week also, the following week 2 or so hours, subsequently our sessions were fortnightly, then monthly, till the they were over. It helped. I have recommended seeing the shrink and advocated same. Those who do appreciate it.
During the sessions which involved a battery of tests, she kept asking me if I had suicidal thoughts at any time, I always gave her an emphatic NO. How could I? How is suicide a solution? And on and on I would go. Another time she would ‘mistakenly’ ask me again, like I had not answered before. I would assure, and get a bit irritated that she did not psychoanalyse me adequately to know that my temperament and outlook could not possibly predispose me to considering that as an option. Years down the line, and in retrospect, I realised that I indeed had suicidal thoughts then. It had occurred to me at the time, but I was not even conscious of it then. It means was carrying thoughts I was not conscious of, thoughts in my conscious state I would reject and censure. I was not well. Imagine for a second that something snapped then and I did the unthinkable. Imagine that I had not the self-awareness to know I was not well, and needed to see a shrink. Imagine that I thought it was shameful to go to a psychiatric hospital to see a shrink.
In the wake of growing suicide reports, everyone in this place has become a licenced psychologist and experienced psychotherapist analysing the causes of suicide and giving unsolicited advice. Please stop! I do not know anyone who on a very good day thinks killing themselves is a solution to their problems, and that what they are going through is not only a phase, tomorrow will be better.
Some are boasting that they will not commit suicide, they can not. This is not a matter for motivational talk and positive confession relying on self. It is much deeper than that.
A young man unfortunately ended his life. Instead of soberly looking at it, and considering what could be the cause, and empathising with his family and other loved ones, I saw the religious people judging him. They said it is because he was agnostic. No one who believes in God would do such, and on and on they went. Really?!
Shortly afterwards, a gospel music minister in church did same, most sadly. Then came his suicide note. Then came some criticising a church organisation he was associated with. Then came the church distancing itself from him. Then came the smear campaign on his person. He is not here to defend himself and provide any context. It is his fellow Christian believers tearing apart his dignity in death and whatever name he had whilst alive. Shame on you, religious people!
The church could have simply stated in a short release that he was not a pastor in their church, and that they were saddened on his passing, they would miss him (seeing as they know him) and have prayed for comfort for his family and other loved ones, without necessarily going into which his church was, what he did there, whether his wedding was cancelled or whatever. The others, in order to counter those who called out this church went on overdrive demeaning him, in death. You all did not learn this from Christ. What do I know? In Nigeria religion is just that, religion. It is a cultural thing. Not that adherents really care about the teachings and truly hope to understand and shape their lives according to them.
It is a shame that in a psych hospital I was being stigmatised for enrolling and wanting to seek mental health attention. My shrink told me I was the first ever, to come to see a shrink that she knows. No wonder there was no established procedure for seeing a psychologist. Only psychiatric cases are referred to them, not otherwise normal people coming to see them.
See consulting a shrink as taking your car for servicing regularly. The engine does not have to knock before you repair it. You could simply change the oil here or there, replace this or that. Not that they are damaged, but because their functionality is no more top notch. Your brain works 24/7. Do not you think it needs servicing too?
Stop judging. Stop shaming. Stop stigmatising. Show some empathy. See a shrink.
Sesugh Akume, public policy analyst, wrote from Abuja, Nigeria. He tweets @sesugh_akume, and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.