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Wasike's Story: "Mental Health in a Traditional African Society Is Often Associated With Witchcraft"

Written by Jose Caballero

Growing up in a "Traditional African Society" in Eldoret, Kenya, and experiencing the loss of his loved ones, Wasike's cultural background and life circumstances have played a significant role in his mental health journey. He said that his community profusely lacks mental health resources—and especially the ability to openly express his emotions and mental struggles. "Mental health is taboo here. It's considered something that an individual brings upon themselves," Wasike says. Whenever Wasike wants to openly express how he feels, his peers often make him feel like something is wrong and that his feelings are not valid. "They started acting differently towards me. I felt like they thought I couldn't do anything. Sometimes, my team captain would bench me or prefer that I not participate in sporting activities," he says.

"I have witnessed many individuals struggling with mental health being taken to witch doctors, when what they need is perhaps a therapist or a psychiatrist. Sadly, in both modern and traditional African communities, mental health is often associated with witchcraft or seen as something that can only be treated with hard science. This narrow-minded thinking perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental health and stops individuals from seeking the help they need."

Wasike's struggles were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving him feeling suffocated by the constant barrage of negativity and uncertainty that surrounded him. He went from feeling hopeful and full of life to struggling to even get out of bed each day. The weight of this burden was made even heavier by the sudden loss of a dear friend and classmate, followed by the passing of his beloved grandmother. These losses were unlike anything Wasike had ever experienced before, and the grief he felt was all-consuming. Despite being overwhelmed by sorrow, he had to push through his days with a busy school schedule, leaving him feeling like a hollow shell of himself, just going through the motions. The pain was almost unbearable, and the feeling of loss was palpable in his heart.

But Wasike has found strength and solace in his faith and self-care practices. As a Catholic and having interacted with Opus Dei, he has learned to share his struggles with other people who are struggling in different ways in his community and to normalize open conversations about mental health. "This for me is truly magical, come to think of it. This ideology has helped me create a positive relationship with my mental health state. I would not trade it for a thing in the world." He has also learned the importance of prioritizing self-compassion and kindness and has incorporated meditation into his daily routine. "I have to be kind to myself no matter the situation," he says. "Be easy and kind to yourself." "You must love yourself; no one else will." He has rediscovered his passions, such as cooking, working out, and writing, which have helped him heal and grow.

Through his blog, Mwanaume Strong, Wasike is raising awareness about mental health struggles in men. He shares his story and the stories of others to show the world that it's okay to be vulnerable and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. By sharing his experiences and advocating for mental health, Wasike is helping to break down the barriers that prevent people from seeking help and finding the support they need.

With a bright future ahead of him as a future lawyer, Wasike is an inspiring example of what it means to rise above adversity and emerge stronger.

Wasike's story is a powerful reminder of the importance of acknowledging and addressing the role that culture, discrimination, and other factors play in shaping our experiences with mental health. By sharing stories from underrepresented communities and individuals, we can infuse our communities and workplaces with the power of empathy, understanding, and inclusiveness. Through these stories, we are listening to and learning from the experiences of others, as well as gaining a deeper appreciation for the complexities of mental health and developing more effective and compassionate approaches to supporting those who are struggling.

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