Studies have shown that mental health care delivery is being neglected, especially in developing countries, and this growing need, especially for women and children, needs to be addressed.
About 100 million African people suffer from clinical depression, including 66 million women and children. The World Bank considers it “the greatest thief of productive economic life”, with annual global costs related to mental, neurological, psychiatry and substance abuse disorders estimated at 2.5 to 8.5 trillion USD per year, expected to nearly double by 2030.
Psychotherapy in our African society, especially in traditional times, is integral to social life. It is thus as old as all institutional aspects of African civilization but has not been explored. It permeates almost every aspect of life and is an essential component of today’s economy, even in African social and religious life.
As Black Africans, we often lack regular access to therapy services, which highlights difficulties with our trust in counsellors; therapy goals are significant issues to research into. This is because it can lead us to seek help or not.
However, several studies have identified fundamental problems in understanding the cycles of reasons why many of us from African cultures, tribes and people are reluctant to seek therapeutic services.
Culture of helplessness
Cultural helplessness, what many calls learned helplessness, is when someone thinks their efforts will be wasted. So they avoid trying. Despite the apparent need for psychological therapy, many Africans are hesitant to seek mental health treatment and therapies.
Part of this reluctance can be explained by the fact that Africans have historically suffered mental health abuse and their mental health treatment is highly discriminatory and prejudiced.
Sometimes African people or Black Americans shy away from mental health treatment because of our fear of the unknown and rooted cultural helplessness. They had never done it before and didn’t know what to expect. Another reason other black people avoid treatment for mental illness because they think it won’t work.
Often, it is a hidden insecurity or a false belief that strong people will solve their problems. From a practical point of view, I have noticed we tend to be addressed as weak and not manly when seeking help from another person, counsellor or psychotherapist. This has been a belief for years, though many of these beliefs are changing.
We don’t like to admit we have a mental health challenge or problem. But, in the process, we learn or develop the idea that if they were flawed, made mistakes, or didn’t always feel happy and strong, the family name would be damned. Often these are people who: Are afraid of failure or are overly sensitive to other people’s opinions of them.
Internally, African therapists faced several consulting challenges that shaped the results of different approaches. Unfortunately, this barrier prevents people from seeking mental health treatment, and they often doubt whether it will work because they have heard about a bad experience.
Unfortunately, some people have had negative mental health experiences. When they (or someone they know) seek treatment from a provider who does not know or does not use the mental health system license policies or agreement, a tendency to pose additional mental health challenges arises.
Stigma and discrimination
Stigma can be defined as a process involving labelling, segregation, perception of stereotypes, validation of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination in the context of social power, social, economic, or political, which may harm a person or members of a group.
According to a study, 63% said black mental health problems are a sign of personal weakness, stigma, and discrimination.
As a result, black may feel ashamed of their mental illness and fear discrimination because of their condition. For many black community members, discussing mental health can be extremely difficult due to concerns about how others view them. This fear can prevent some Africans from seeking mental health care when they need it. This stigma related to mental illness can be essential in reducing the likelihood of seeking help.
Failure to achieve treatment goals
Even though healing might last a lifetime, African clients and therapists must set realistic short-term goals. This is useful for various reasons, including tracking recovery and encouraging clients throughout a step-by-step process.
Most times, Black African goals are not set or unrealistic, and treatment may become useless, discouraging the other ideas of seeking help. However, these therapists should know so that therapy can work.
Goal setting can look different for different clients and therapists. That is why therapists must address the most critical areas of struggle before moving on to the next, which is why African clients are not clear about therapy. Therefore, therapists should adjust their approach to the client’s needs, not the other way around.
Onah Caleb is a research assistant at Benue State University (Nigeria). He runs the blog KaylebsThought.