Mental illness 'misunderstood'

Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

Mental health has always been misunderstood. For years black communities linked these medical conditions with witchcraft. As a result people who suffered from mental illnesses were often and still are stigmatised.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is a good example of a person who overcame mental illness. Bondevik served two terms in office. During his tenure he suffered from major depression and eventually broke down. This forced him to hand over the reins while he was in hospital for a month.

When Bondevik returned to office, he vowed to break the stigma around mental health.

"Lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown are the reasons behind the mental health stigma. If people were to educate themselves about mental illness, it would be much easier for those affected," he said yesterday.

Bondevik was speaking in Houghton, Johannesburg during the World Mental Health Day. He said he would promote awareness of mental health issues during his visit. He would also call attention to the stigma and misunderstanding that surround mental illness.

"I suffered from mental illness and I overcame it with the help of therapy and support from friends and family," he said.

Bondevik said if South Africans wanted to do away with the stigma they needed to accept that, as with physical illnesses, mental conditions could be treated and cured.