NOTE: This conversation begins in the middle. I missed the first part.
RK: There was a lot of loss of life during the lockdown, what did that do to our mental health?
GL: When you lose someone you need support. Covid made social support become financial support. Meaning; before, when you lost someone, you shared on a whatsapp group and people planned on attending the vigil and burial. We were used to that then it was no more. People lost their loved ones. Many were stuck on oxygen. They lost their businesses and properties. And now they had to run around. They were struggling and needed to get help from other people. Even the people we thought had money and they were rich, apparently they were not. Because if someone was sick and they had a bill of UGX 90M, it all got wiped out. There was a go fund me from everywhere. People lost loved ones. People lost status. They lost their social standing. And the grief will always be there. Even the relationships that were thriving on physical interaction were there no more.
RK: For relationships, it was not just the thing about death, there was the effect of the lockdown. Do you want to talk about it a bit?
GL: In 2020, I was hosted on CGTN TV East Africa. And there was the issue of domestic violence all over East Africa, so I was asked why it was on the increase. The issue was proximity. Between a man and a woman staying in the same home with children, they were all in the same place at the same time with the same person. Before it was the thing of touch and dash. I have to go to work, I have a meeting, I have a deadline and you had to pick kids or drop them or something. You would only meet later. The time spent together in close proximity was so limited that there’s little room for conflict. Ideally even the bad manners you never used to see about someone you began to see in HD.
RK: Talk to us about suicide.
GL: Very many people look at suicide as an independent issue. It’s actually not. There’s something called attempted suicide and successful suicide. This where someone attempts and actually commits suicide. They call it successful, unfortunately.
Suicide is like a permanent decision for a temporary problem. Someone decides that this is it. This is the end. But for that to happen, there has been a journey. Someone feels misunderstood or have a lot to deal with. Normally with these people, if someone is keen, they pick out pointers. There are things they will say, things like; I don’t think I can do this anymore. I don’t think this life is for me. I have had enough. The feelings are both hopelessness and helplessness. For someone to commit suicide, they have had depression that they never treated or was never recognised. So it was a long standing depression that results into depression.
Someone may wonder but what is depression?
Robert, I want to tell you, everyone has ever been depressed before. Maybe you’ve not had clinical depression but everyone has been depressed. This is depression.
- There are times you wake up and you don’t feel like waking up from your bed. You feel like there is no need to open the curtain. That football is no longer interesting anymore. There is no purpose in life. The commonest sign of depression is that you lose interest in the things you used to love. If you loved to go to the salon every Saturday, you stopped minding your appearance. When you have been on that job and there is no one recognising your effort, depression is guaranteed.
- Depression is having constant sadness for no apparent reason. You can’t put your finger on why you are sad. We’ve all had the depression lows but when it goes on for a very long period of time, and it’s not treated- and by that I mean you go to a counsellor and tell them what is happening.
- When we talk about mental health, people look at the brain only. Mental health is about how you think, speak and act. Meaning it is the brain which is responsible for your thoughts and then your heart where the emotions are. Because after you have perceived something (perception) in your brain then it produces hormones and emotion in your heart either of anger or excitement or confusion and then the emotions guide your behaviour (how you act). This depression is basically sadness that lasts for a long time and you lose interest in all things you used to love. And then you feel like you have an existential crisis of what now, what next. Is this all there is?
RK: Then people could be wondering, how can I know that this is not healthy? What are the immediate tell-tale signs to know that you need help?
GL: Ideally, anything that is marked: change, you need to talk to someone about the expectations for this change but also to prepare you for later. If you are pregnant for the first time, it’s important that you talk to someone because there is going to be a lot of change that you will need to be prepared.
If you are going to change a job role, you need to be prepared. There is an identity crisis you have been going through. You have been known for a different title and it got before you, so who are you without that title. For example you Robert, the transition into farming, well you are passionate about it and all but the title of CEO is gone. How do you navigate the change now that you are different? All the people going through a change, you need to talk to someone, it may not be a counsellor. It may be a friend, someone you trust.
The point at which you realise that you have to see a professional is when:
- You have changes in your sleeping pattern. If you used to sleep early and be awake say at 6am and then that changes, and now you are just looking for the sleep. If you are not sleeping for a long period of time. Or if you wake up it is difficult for you to sleep again or when your sleep is no longer peaceful sleep. You have bad dreams; something is chasing you, those show anxiety in subconscious. Or when you sleep and have a sudden wake up. Some people, when they sleep, they wake up tired even when they sleep early. You feel exhausted.
- A change in appetite. It could be an increase in appetite or a decrease in appetite. And I am not saying that every time you have these changes you are having depression. These signs have to be over a very long period of time. Some people even forget to eat and even don’t feel hungry. We talk about emotional eating when we say, I feel like a glass of whisky or a cake. It also includes alcohol and caffeinated drinks. They are depressants. When they say drink a lot of water, it is a thing of balancing out all your other hormones or vitamins to flash out whatever is not needed. The same applies to exercise. The hormones get to balance up when you work out. Meaning that your reaction to a circumstance will not be an overreaction.
- If your reaction does not match the preceding action. For instance someone odes something so small but your reaction is an overreaction. If you find that your emotions are not in order. It called the blunted effect. Someone is emotionless, you can’t tell if they are happy or sad. And I think it has happened to so many people, why? Because our empathy gap has closed. We lost so much during the lockdown. For example; if you tell someone Person A lost their loved one and all they say they are not the first or something lie that. It is because we have lost so much that our empathy has been eroded.
RK: So what help is but there that people should seek?
GL: When you feel that something is not right, the first thing you do, you go to a general doctor, then according to their assessment they refer you. I would encourage people that before you go to hospital where medication is a quick fix, reach out to a counsellor. And they have to fit. For example someone with a midlife crisis will find better help from someone who is not me. Someone in their age bracket.
Find a counsellor that is fit for you. They will do a session plan. They will do a presented issue and then casual issue and then lead you on a process. They will lead you on a journey.
For cases where one cannot sleep, there are natural remedies for the insomnia. Instead of taking medication.
When it comes to addiction that is where we advise combination drug therapy where we bring in a psychiatric who will give you the medication that will imitate whatever the heights so that you slowly withdraw from this intake of the substance.
RK: This thing called stress, where and how does it become a full blown mental problem?
GL: When it comes to stress, there is the good stress and the bad stress. Stress is the body’s reaction to pressure or unusual circumstances. Either there is a report that is due or you have a decision you have to make or something. The good stress happens when you are looking forward to something good. Anticipation of a good thing.
The bad stress is for example something you encountered when you were a child. This is where the pressure of your childhood hits but continually. It is the kind that affects people who look after for example patients with chronic diseases for a long time, covid patients. That’s a chronic stress.
Then there is the acute stress where for example they tell you someone has died.
This is how stress becomes a mental disorder:
- When people do not know what causes the stress but the trigger is a stimulant. You can be triggered into excitement and a trigger can mean so many things. For example, it could be a sound/ a song that reminds you of something. It can be a scent, a perfume.
RK: I will tell you mine, it’s a cockroach. It reminds me of a certain time in my childhood that I cannot go back to.
GL: Sorry about that. It could be a word, a statement, or even a person. There is a person you and you don’t want to meet. People do not know how to tell their triggers. I keep telling people to always ‘feel your feelings’.
RK: What does that mean?
GL: This is what it means. Normally when something happens, people want to move on very first. You want to push your feelings under the carpet, you don’t want people to know about it. So while you are doing that, you are not felling your feeling. Imagine you lose someone and you get caught up with burial arrangements. What happens is that you are in shock and you never get to fell angry.
The emptiness hits you later. When I say feel your feelings, I mean accept the situation as it comes. Acknowledge that you are feeling bad about it and find a way to deal with it. Embrace the moment and move on.
RK: What would you say to people like me who had to deal with the patients, us who have had to deal with a person struggling with their mental health?
GL: If you are the primary care giver to this person;
- Listen without the burden of giving advice until it is asked for. Advice is a responsibility. You have to own whatever you should do. If it works, well and good, if it doesn’t, it’s on you.
- Listen to the subtle things, the things that they don’t say. Therein lies the answer to their pain. Normally when someone is in pain, because we don’t want to appear vulnerable, we mask it. We say things like “I don’t care”.
- Have a self-care routine for yourself. You could be anything, it could be driving off to a faraway place, staying away from social media or anything. Nature is a good place to be.
Comrade Otoa: Being vulnerable is something which has come up over and over in the recent past. How do we encourage these conversations?
2) A lot of businesses are going under, how do we start these conversations? We are not talking about empathy.
GL: Thank you Tony. We need to accept that for people to come out, they have to trust who they are telling. Meaning, we have to create a safe space for people. If someone has confided in you, please observe confidentiality. Respect the person’s privacy unless they have given you permission to.
But also, it starts with you. Talk about your experiences openly. When one person shares, another feels comfortable. It starts with that.
Moses Rutahigwa: How far can our senses take in negative situations?
GL: Earlier on, I talked about emotional resilience or emotional strength. We are all gifted differently because of the things we have been exposed to. I think if you feel in your heart of hearts that you cannot take something anymore. For example, at the height of covid, I took a decision not to watch news.
When we talked about triggers, we didn’t mention stressors. Stressors are what catalyse what you are feeling and just become worse. For example if you have covid, why should you go around looking for which countries have the highest numbers.
Identify the stressors and deal away with them.
OPP: I want to ask you about the concept of “no”. Why is it hard to say no? How do herbs contribute to mental health?
GL: The thing of not saying no normally comes from childhood where you need to seek approval from other people. You doubt whether they will like you or hate you depending on what you say. So you feel that you need to overcompensate to be welcomed. It’s a thing of identity, pity or fitting in. Normally, it comes from childhood and it was passed on by parents but it is was not explained. It is acceptance and approval. Your answer cannot be a default yes. I keep telling myself that someone’s emergency is not my emergency. Why? Because I cannot be in a thousand places at a time. What you see is what you get. If I cannot make it, I will tell you. But I also use a blanket statement like “We shall see”. My professional life is scheduled, I don’t want to overschedule my personal life.
So, you need to find out why you feel you have to be accepted wherever you are.
About herbs and mental wellness is how you can relax. Herbs have a calming effect. There are people will light candles in their bedrooms or bathrooms. It may not take away your struggles but it will relax you. It means you relax and give yourself a better feeling the following day.
Penina Laker: This session is helping me reflect on my upbringing, we have to pay attention to what these triggers are that we had while growing up. I can’t help but think about the young kids, the next generation, for those who are growing up now, how are we equipping ourselves to help them?
GL: The best thing to do for children is to encourage them to express. Expression is a super power and in whatever way they can. Whenever I have a child to see, I want to see this child in their home because it is a safe space. And ideally you do what the child wants to do. If they want to play, you go out and play. And while they play, listen to their stories and see who of the parents they lean to when sharing. You listen and encourage them to express themselves. Do not lie to the children. You cannot hide things from them. Find a simpler way to answer. If they don’t ask you, they will ask someone else. Allow children to express themselves. Always.
RK: I want to thank you Grace for today’s session. This has been very helpful
GL: Thank you for the opportunity Robert.