[OPINION] World Mental Health Day and a can of worms walk into Twitter
Wandering through Twitter feeds just breeds a useless confusion, I know because I have tried. I tried last year on World Mental Health Day and I tried today. I clicked on the “Latest Tweets” tab, I clicked on the “News” tab and I clicked on the “Top Tweets” tab. I clicked with unashamed wonder. The kind inspired only by naivety. Craving a fix for something that’s broken. But all of the information speaks to me in a foreign language.
The World Health Organisation’s page leads with an article that reads: Depression, let’s talk. For those who don’t know, talking about mental illness to those who suffer from it often results in this response: I am fine.
The official World Mental Health Day account has urged social media users to make #worldmentalhealthday the top trending hashtag today. Why? Mental health is not trendy any other day of the year.
And then, of course, spurred by the fear of coming across as absent and oblivious, the official account of the South African government has posted this: Good morning SA! Today is #worldmentalhealthday. This day aims to educate people about mental health and to reduce the stigma and discrimination people with mental health issues often experience.
Good morning SA! Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. This day aims to educate people about mental health and to reduce the stigma and discrimination people with mental health issues often experience. pic.twitter.com/ns20oCoUDm— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) 10 October 2018
An insufficient offering in my opinion and an obnoxious effort at the very least. A tasteless tweet that failed to address an incident that was referred to as “the greatest cause of human rights violation in democratic South Africa”.
What did I do to feed my jaded mind? I went on a hunt for that other hashtag: #LifeEsidimeni. You know, that other popular trend that surfaced in 2015 when it was reported that the healthcare centre was involved in the deaths of 143 patients suffering with mental illness in Gauteng due to starvation and neglect, and upon further investigation, many bodies were found badly decomposed.
I left the poison of Twitter behind and went on a news search instead, maybe the government forgot to tweet their progress of this tragedy on this auspicious day.
I found that on the second of October this year, IOL published an article titled: Health Department Trying to Shake Off Esidimeni Stigma. Shake off the stigma?
The article reads, “The Gauteng Health Department is trying to shake off the stigma of Life Esidimeni this Mental Health Awareness month. On Monday, Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa said focus would continue to be applied to NGOs to ensure that a tragedy like Life Esidimeni does not occur again”. Focusing on NGOs is one thing, but to sit back and watch patients burn and turn to rust is another – among them 49 still unaccounted for, their families cold and stiff with worry and grieving. No “shaking off” afforded to them.
Twitter users splash in that dreaded pool that lies between care and cruelty. Where the sufferers of mental illness are supposed to be comforted with a hashtag, but instead, often find they feel empty. That same kind of emptiness that hollows out their hearts and minds on any given day when depression might scare them awake only to hypnotise them into a desperate slumber.
The day doesn’t fool me. It’s a wretched day painted in a colour that’s supposed to convey a more precious message. My first memory of the onset of depression and anxiety settled into my system as clear as the intention of my first thoughts of suicide at the age of ten – if not younger. I did not protest this fear. It seemed like a safe and fertile ground on which to plant my discomfort with the living who did not understand. It was like that then, and it’s like that now.
No Twitter trend will change it.
More than that, the ultimate message conveyed by the South African government in particular is that: the can is open. The worms are everywhere but we will do nothing to try and eradicate the infestation caused by our own ignorance because the world is not for you.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.