The Real African|| By Dumani Mandela
This book is my small annotation and contribution to some of the issues confronting mental illness in South Africa today.
Although the book does not seek to be an intellectual tour de force, I think it meets its original ambition of normalizing mental illness in an African context, both as a human condition and a spiritual affliction that is manageable. Its ambition was to be as simple as possible.
According to South African depression and anxiety group, over four million people in South Africa suffer from Bipolar illness. Bi Polar illness is a mood disorder that affects the moods of the sufferer in varying degrees, cycling between happiness and sadness to such a point that it affects their ability to carry out daily tasks.
In my life I have sought modern treatment of bipolar with a modern psychiatrist and also through a pharmacological approach to wellness that being taking medication. But for over 60% of South Africans whom suffer from mental illness, they pursue a cultural continuity in seeking remedies that have existed in Africa since 3000BC.
It is noted that over 68% of South Africans suffering from mental illness in South Africa stop their medication and treatment and opt for alternative remedies many of which are found within the cultural continuity of African culture. At the same time it should also be equally noted that only about 40% of people in South Africa suffering from mental illness are actually diagnosed due to many seeking culturally relevant treatment options.
In the book Ancient Egypt by Parragon Publishers it is stated that African treatment in 3000BC towards mental illness and other medical afflictions was treated by both a physician who sought to heal the physical symptoms and also a diviner whom sought to treat the unseen symptoms by relying on magic and guidance from the ancestors. How fitting then in today’s South Africa centuries after 3000BC many Africans seek out diviners and herbalists doctors to deal with mental illness through cultural continuity.
As I state in my book there is no one solution modern or historical for me that constitutes the perfect approach to the treatment of mental illness. My assessment is that a mixture of both contemporary and historical approaches have to be used in the African context when dealing with mental illness. Although I don’t arrive at any prescribed conclusions in my book on the way forward, but I do acknowledge that in treating mental illness doctors from all walks of life must look at mental illness both as a physiological condition that affects the chemistry of the brain and also a spiritual affliction that affects the soul of the sufferer.
There have been many advancements that have been made by Western approaches to mental illness through psychiatric treatment and also the administration of medication to combat the unwanted effects of mental illness, and to a certain degree manage it for the sufferer. But on the inverse of that there is are still some African approaches although many of them don’t yield outcome based solutions and are not documented which are prevalent in the country and the continent through the spoken medium and story telling.
My wish for the future is that in dealing with mental illness holistically in the South African context, both the contemporary and the historical approaches must be combined to create a holistic approach to mental illness in South Africa. I conclude my book in this section called “Our Shared heritage”. In it I surmise the wider uses of African heritage beyond mental illness and that in the discussions around what constitutes modern social construction and cultural responses to social ills, we should not be afraid to lean on African heritage to create the social context to be able to derive value from indigenous African thought.
One thing to understand for people is that Bipolar illness happens within a social, political and economic context and in order to fully comprehend it we have to look at some of the paradoxes around how African shared heritage has been received, interpreted and applied in the past and present in a socio political context. Although it is a reflection on the overall importance of African culture in today’s world, it is also a prelude to another book, which I would like to write which would be a short story on indigenous African thought towards mental illness.
For me relying on African culture cannot simply about how we culturally respond to illness through culture, but holistically how we use African culture in informing and creating the lives we would like to live. Although I must state that I take a rather modernist view to African culture and I am more drawn to pre-colonial Africa and its impacts in today’s world.
Holistically there is much that can be learned from African culture whether it be through modern approaches or through the purely traditional. I am not a modern practitioner, nor am I a traditional doctor, but this book constitutes my small voice as a mental illness sufferer and some of the observations I have made along the way in managing bipolar illness in a South African context.