The fragility of life has a direct impact on our mental health

29 June 2021 | Opinion

Windhoek • John Steytler

Recently I took the plunge and wrote about a topic that isn’t often unpacked: Mental health.
It was a daunting thing to do, but I soon realized that I had made the right decision. As someone that is used to giving their opinion, sharing their thoughts, this was on a whole new level, especially since I am usually quite reserved and hesitant to share my personal feelings. It always comes from a place of professional knowledge and insight.
The reaction I received on my ‘Mental health wellbeing suit is all’ column was absolutely overwhelming. The positive feedback, the reactions and the outpouring of messages was unexpected. The subject matter struck a chord.
Initially it wasn’t my intention to write a second article about mental health, but as I saw our pandemic crisis unfold, I felt compelled to write. No one is left untouched. Everyone has now either had Covid-19, or has a family member, friend or colleague who has contracted it. If they are lucky they survived.
But in the last few weeks we have seen how fragile and quickly a life can be extinguished by the virus. The constant onslaught of infections, hospitalizations and deaths is impacting our collective mental health like nothing ever has before.
Sadly, it also seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The sheer relentlessness of bad news upon bad news is mentally draining and traumatizing.
It is impossible to know what to say so people at this stage that will help them. “Cheer up”, “it will get better”, “they will pull through”.
Right now, with so many people not making it, these words are not enough. Simply sending another condolence message feels empty. Personally, I’ve sent more than 12 such messages just in the last few weeks. Many people reading this will have sent as many or maybe more.
However, grief is not a competition and staying strong certainly does not mean not acknowledging and dealing or talking about your grief to process it.

Unrelenting assault.
It’s hard to grieve when it is such an unrelenting assault on all of us. This is where the mental health issue and our wellbeing comes into play again. Often they say; “it is OK not to be OK”. No truer words have been spoken. This is so unlike anything we’ve gone through as a nation or globally, that no one has a simple coping solution or mechanism. Acknowledging that you don’t feel ok, that you are stressed and unable to easily compartmentalize what is happening is perfectly natural and to be expected.
It is important to talk to your family, friends and also at work to see what your wellness department can do, if you have access to one. Perhaps they have people, professionally trained as social workers and psychologists on call that can be engaged with.
I am a lot of things, but not a trained mental health expert by any stretch of the imagination. All I can do is talk about my own journey and how I learned and am still learning, to cope with what we are facing.
Take time for yourself, for your family and loved ones. Reach out to people you may not normally reach out to and really practice the spirit of pulling together during this time when we find how fragile life really is.
As Namibians and Africans we must now more than ever embrace spirit of harambee and ubuntu when it comes to looking after our own and each other’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Look after each other, be accommodating, empathetic and gentle with each other and most of all adhere to all protocols and please get vaccinated. We will get through this, by looking after each and focusing on our mental wellbeing.

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