Valentine and Mental health: Theorisations on love brewed in an African pot (Part 1)

Valentine and Mental health: Theorisations on love brewed in an African pot (Part 1)
Source: Dr Yvonne Otubea Otchere | Consulting Psychologist
Date: 12-02-2019 Time: 08:02:50:pm

It was mid-morning and about two days to good old valentine’s day!! As I engaged in my routine motherly work of dropping off my children at school in my bid to avoid the ‘early morning’ rush hour; there was surely valentine in the air. Shops were attractively decorated with the red colour, others posted promotions on reduced sales on wine, toffees, cards and all the Valentine ‘ideals’. My thoughts were hazed on the increasingly erotic view of Valentine. It almost seemed a black-or-white prognosis! Either you have it or not! Well, this is definitely Valentine, I had to create my own valentine -an imaginary valentine I thought!!

Just then my attention was disrupted by a passer-by who stood a few meters on the left side of the main driving pathway. What caught my attention about the lady were her ‘tired’ looks and how she seeming paced up and down the small waiting area of the bus stop. Mummy, look!! My children overly inquisitive like their mother drew my attention deeper. I had just driven past her but I slowed down immediately as a curious but concerned observer and then gazed from my side mirror to double check if what I had seen was indeed the picture of what the brain reflected and interpreted to me.

My daughter had a field trip that morning so I reluctantly excused myself with reasons why I should perhaps drive on- however, I found myself unconsciously ruminating over what I had seen.

On my way back to drop the second child off, I chanced the same route and luckily spotted her sitting somewhat distracted in the front view of a new but deserted building. I need to speak to this lady! It took some split-seconds to take that decision-my worry was simple-what if she physically attacked me? But fear and discouragement would not prohibit me from this encounter. Good morning madam! I greeted. Her head stood low and it took a third greeting to receive an awakening from her. What is your name and where are you from? Psychologists are always good at double-barreled questions and I did not mind demonstrating my prowess at that dire encounter.

Throwing in questions were active principles embedded in my rigorous scientific training and I instantly did not struggle with this. I.. I am from Asia! Well, this was a black looking African lady (likely Ghanaian) and this response did not seem acceptable to me. Okay, Madam, why are you here -Is there anything I can do to help you? Then again I threw what I have always known best-two questions in one! I have no one she claimed! Well, do you have a child?

The answer came with a smile and my instincts and therapeutic experience reminded me that this lady may be journeying through a critical phase of emotional distress which may have caused her the bit of the disorientation she partly presented. ‘I …I had a boyfriend but the relationship break ‘(she smiled lazily). Okay..any children I enquired again? Two children-one boys, one girl! Just then her head dropped and instantly I discerned she showed immediate signs of mood swings. Right, let’s get food to eat and then tell me all about your emotional journey.

As I watched her gobble down food- I found myself reflecting on experiences of numerous women on love, relationship and mental health. According to According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2004), mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

Some schools of thought have traced the epidemiology of mental illness to love-related issues critically scouting socio-cultural vis-à-vis clinical arm-chair philosophizing as crucially attributable to the African woman. Others assume that mental health disorders are uniquely ‘unAfrican’ and to link markedly attributions of love-related issues to this may be highly dissociating and disconcerting. In fact, the literature clearly predates the evolution of mental illness in Africa to the post-colonial area.

Plausibly suggesting that in pre-colonial times, theorisations on mental illness in the fabric of the African society was regarded as a misnomer- plausibly, a non-existing phenomenon that needed less assimilation and acceptability. Unfortunately, non-existing situations often sheltered under the regalia of ‘mystery’ in the African theorizations of unexplainable causes to situations or disorders may be likely linked to demonisation, witchcraft and exorcism. To think that this kind of ideations overly simplify the situation and ignore the rippling realities is overwhelming.

Some authorities on the subject matter on mental health, for instance, Keyes (2014) identifies three components to mental health: emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being. Emotional well-being includes happiness, interest in life, and satisfaction; psychological well-being includes liking most parts of one's own personality, being good at managing the responsibilities of daily life, having good relationships with others, and being satisfied with one's own life; social well-being refers to positive functioning and involves having something to contribute to society (social contribution), feeling part of a community (social integration), believing that society is becoming a better place for all people (social actualization), and that the way society works makes sense to them (social coherence).

For significant general health stakeholders, I find that a high level of experience to refer to patients (plausibly presenting with mental illness linked to love-related issues) to mental health professionals. My theorisations are based on the fact that most people somatise by showing bodily symptoms to emotional problems. So an individual who may have experienced a ‘broken heart’ may not be far from experiencing headaches, chest pains, high temperature, stomach pains which could be deceptively diagnosed as early signs of malaria.

From my experience on practice, I have observed that most women would somatise emotional problems and may receive treatments to the presenting symptoms ignoring the seething underlining causes of the presentation/symptoms which may be emotional distress, probably clinical depression. In fact, in a major study by Tomlinson, Grimsrud, Stein and Williams (2009) among South African participants using the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview found that the prevalence of depression was significantly higher among females than males.

The prognosis is grim. When we experience love and we marry or are romantically engaged, our traditional gatekeepers educate us on gender role prescriptions for every woman-lover. Unfortunately, these prescriptions are less sensitive to caution reminders on the harrowing side of love! 

There is obviously a thin line between love and mental illness I find and beyond this, I perceive it would be important to begin to re-evaluate stories of the African woman and love. How love brewed in the African pot of the tolerable African woman can notably drive the African woman beyond the normal borders of reasoning functions.

We begin to talk about love and mental illness when we appreciate that a lot more of the cases in the psychiatric and psychological units may be expediently related to love-related issues, such as ‘broken-heart’, deception, infidelity, among others and how the African woman would absolutely give it all for love! Importantly so is how the African woman is socialized to think that ‘without a man, there is a gross sense of incompletion’ and this is carefully fabricated into her level of sub-consciousness and ‘she’ begins to hunt for love as the only solution to her emotional needs.

Love brewed in the African pot is a reminder that Valentine is for love but it also a reminder that there are more daring issues associated with the complexities of love defined in the African pot. In this pot a woman is expected to give love her all even at the point to emotional and physical abuse. Let’s begin to redefine love and mental illness to the African Woman.