EDITORIAL: When it comes to mental health, we must be our brother’s keeper

Monday September 23 2019


Doctors call for urgent response to rising cases of suicide. PHOTO | FILE 

More by this Author

As we commemorated the world suicide day, social media was awash with cases of people who had taken their own lives. In Kigali, for example, four people committed suicide in two days.

This helped to shed light on a bigger problem that our society is currently facing: Mental health. Mental health remains complex because it manifests in different ways.

While definite numbers are not available to give us an idea of the scale of the problem, what is clear is that our society is grappling with several mental health issues.

However t is difficult for most people to seek help because of the social stigma attached to mental health. Experts have pointed out that the country is sitting on a time bomb if nothing drastic is done to address mental health.

Rwanda as a society is still sore from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, which left a trail of dysfunctions, from families torn apart by gruesome deaths at the hands of their neighbours, to abject poverty.

Although the complex history of our country is a major contributor to mental health issue we face today, social pressure is worsening the situation.


For example, many young people today face enormous pressure from their families to get married. Some are forced to borrow money from banks to finance weddings.

Others get married out of pressure yet they are not ready for responsibilities that come with starting a family. Teenage mothers who are forced to drop out of school and are blamed by society become traumatised.

Rape and defilement victims endure not just physiological torture but also trauma when they get blamed for their situation.

While Rwanda’s health sector is among the few with a fully functioning mental health department, experts caution that there is a need for more resources to enable our health system to be more responsive to the needs of those in need of care.

Experts say that by the time someone commits suicide, they have tried everything else to save themselves, meaning that if people are equipped with basic skills in identifying a family member who is depressed, we can reduce the cases of suicide.

Giving people training in basic suicide prevention and suicide response systems like a toll free number could help.

Technology and related addictions have also proved to be breeding grounds for mental health issues.

The biggest responsibility to protect children from exposure to later mental health issues rests on the parents, they have to ensure a healthy environment for their children to develop.

We need active parenting. Parents should make time for their children, and also protect them from early exposure to toxic technologies. Perhaps more importantly, we have the responsibility to be each other’s keepers.