“A letter to my best friend” is a letter to oneself, a hope for healing

Tanzanian author Leah Gerald Soko recounts how she wrote this poem at night, her mind storming and troubled. Feeling useless and unable to do anything about her challenges in life and above all, feeling she had no one to talk to, she turned to writing. A letter to her best friend becomes the chance to open up about her innermost feelings, to face her difficulties and encourage herself to accept her pain and be responsible for her own recovery. In Leah’s words, writing has been “a breakthrough towards depression and anxiety” and it represents now a way “to heal and feel strong about myself”.

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“Finally at peace”, the last bullet will let you fly high in the sky

Reem Yasir, Sudanese poet, opens her poem “in medias res”. The protagonist has a gun in her hand, it’s loaded. There are three bullets, three chances of ending it. Of silencing that evil voice in the head that has always commented every action and thought insulting and belittling. But the protagonist misses and the voices becomes even more cruel. The final lines of the poem portray all the contrasting emotions that can be felt in such a desperate moment: the exasperation of a soul that can’t find any peace and the unspoken, touching desire for a different life.

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“Living with bipolar disorder”, questioning yourself and reality

Self-awareness is the first step towards healing and young Kenyan writer Emily K Millern knows it well. She often writes about her mental health struggles and so trasforms an unusual topic for poetry into art, achieving a therapeutic effect for herself and her readers. Sharing personal experiences – as her bipolar disorder – “reminds us that we are not alone, we are part of a bigger fight and we all have a role to play”, as she said. In fact, Emily strongly advocates for raising public awareness on mental health, a subject as sensitive as underestimated and neglected.

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“Bitter sweet” is the skin cut that suffocates the screaming soul

Mental illness can include a variety of symptoms; sometimes self-harm can occur. In a vicious cycle, the individual punishes his/her own body – the shell containing a suffocating inner distress – and takes somehow pleasure in it. In this poem Mercy Bibian describes with brutal honesty the “journey” to self-harm in scenes of cinematographic inspiration. So the reader witnesses the first cut and then the following ones, up to the establishing of an addiction to pain, to blood, to cutting – an act that almost inconceivably provides relief of unbearable thoughts and feelings of anxiety and depression.

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“I Want to Fall Apart Quietly”: there’s hope at the end of sadness

A versatile artist from Zimbabwe, Chioniso Tsikisayi reveals in this poem a peculiar approach to mental health themes. A moment of awareness about an imminent psychological breakdown is represented with a very light and even sweet touch: the fall can be as beautiful as the rise. In the author’s own words: ““The light-heartedness of my writing is an ode to my inner child who chooses to see beauty in the midst of chaos. I think the literary space is already saturated with great, sombre pieces of writing, but as a young girl navigating the world, I don’t want everything that I read to be too heavy.”

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“Poetry, Pain, Blades And Grace” a night of silence and screams

Day follows night incessantly and with no mercy for those who don’t see the point of this alternation. Society crashes – with its questionable demands – the frailty of those who feel inadequate compared to the world around them and to others. When these feelings become overwhelming, there seems to be only a solution: suicide. But society labels and judges even this extrema ratio. So, in the words of Kenyan author Young Nino, what is left is “drinking your soul away” or anything that can soothe that pain “that takes away your will to live“.

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“The African Madman” who dines with dogs, mocked and alone

The unaware protagonist of these verses is described in three scenes: the place where he barely sleeps and eats, his weatherbeaten body, his condition as a prisoner of his own mental illness. Such a life is here described through the lenses of poetry to convey that same message that both scientific and artistic communities are spreading: mental health conditions must be destigmatized and people affected by them must be treated, instead of being socially isolated. In this concise and powerful poem, talented Ugandan author Amanya Aklam has managed to restore literary dignity to the life of a desperate man.

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Overcoming post-conflict trauma with art: three African case studies

In volatile environments such as conflict-torn North Kivu, post-genocide Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, experts and humanitarian aid workers are now employing art to support the treatment of mental health conditions caused by violence. In many areas of the African continent, people with psychological illnesses lack effective therapeutic support – left alone in dealing with the sickness and forced to fight every day against the stigma. In these circumstances, art therapy can represent an important ally to cure pathologies such as PTSD, depression or nevrosis.

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A pandemic of solitude which is silent, suffocating and like hunger

“WHO has & WHO hasn’t!” is a poem selected from a collection by South Sudanese author Mandela Matur, known as Ade, written during the first phase of the spread of Covid-19. The poem deals with those human conditions often hidden behind the silence produced by stigma or isolation, and that have been aggravated by the present situation. A frail mental health becomes a heavier burden to carry and accept; reaching out one’s hand through the fog of pain to ask for help seems to be beyond one’s power. Ade’s poem unveils what lay hidden in the corners of the mind and encourages us not to let these invisible and pervasive malaises strike us.

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Applying musictherapy to human health, an experience from Africa

Music has always been part of Nsamu Moonga’s life, a young African musictherapist working in Boksburg, South Africa. A passionate student of music and psychotherapy, he decided to offer his skills – and his vocation – to the community. He works with children and young people at risk, in schools and in public institutions. Confident of music communicative and healing capacities – and of the diversity within the continent to be treasured -, he works connecting practice and research, enhancing African traditions and music.

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Migrants’ post-traumatic stress is aggravated by hotspot system

Most of the migrants who have arrived in Europe by sea since 2015 have experienced violence: mental health problems emerge during the reception period in host countries, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. Thanks to a recent study, we know that what awaits these people upon arrival matters just as much as their experiences along the migration route and in their country of origin. Life in large facilities such as hotspots and CARAs can negatively affect previous traumas. Associations agree: it is time to remove the obstacles to integration, radically changing the border approach proposed by the EU.

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Ghana, the solitude of the mentally ill in wards that were prisons

There are three such structures in the country. A 2012 law, which establishes, among other things, the decentralization of psychiatric services, has significantly reduced the number of patients and the problem of overcrowding. Today the number of beds exceeds the number of patients. However, there are still issues of abandonment and the stigma towards those with mental disorders. This investigation contains some stories of the guests of the oldest hospital (it dates back to 1906 and was in the beginning a prison) and the interview with the executive director of Mental Health Authority who also talks about the principle and reasons for the so-called “decolonizing mental health”.

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“Mental 360”, in Kenya against youth depression and suicides

Mental 360 is a non-profit mental health awareness organization that has been active since 2016. Among its activities there are physical wellness, counselling, art therapy, yoga and dance, all aiming at promoting mental health and emotional stability. The end goal is to establish a society where mental illness is not stigmatized and treatment is affordable to the common citizen everywhere in Africa. We talked with Bright Shitemi, co-founder of the organization, who explained us the inspiration behind the NGO and the objectives, obstacles, results achieved to date and future goals.

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Tender Arts Nigeria: music, theatre and painting inside hospitals

TANigeria was founded in 2013 to promote art in all its forms within healthcare facilities in Nigeria and other African countries. It offers a wide range of activities aiming at improving social interaction, easing stress and bringing some color to hospitals wards. Through art, patients are able to express their emotions without words and over 7 years, more than 15,000 people have had the opportunity to take part in these projects which are tailored specifically to the patient’s personal experience. We talked with the founder of this social enterprise, Kunle Adewale, who explained us their programs, objectives and difficulties.

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“I am a refugee in my mind”, when the sense of belonging is lost

In his poem “I am a refugee in my mind”, Alex Kitaka describes the sense of estrangement from the world and even oneself brought by mental distress. Bad thoughts represented by house flies buzz in our head and keep saying that there is no place for us, anywhere. But Alex reminds us that there is always a chance for us to bloom like roses and to heal through sharing: “I believe that writing creates a safer place to let out and let go of feelings that endanger someone’s mental health. Like always, writing is therapy!”

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“I want humanity!” I want the little things you find shaming to do

“Imagine you gathered all the courage and walked up to me? Me, that random girl sitting alone in the cafeteria
Me, that seemingly busy lady over a steaming cup of coffee at the cafe. Me, that swaggered teenager flocked by admirers, the envy of all. Imagine you just walked up to me and said “hi?” Imagine you gathered all the empathy and walked up to me?” Those are the first verses of a poem about solitude, depression, search for compassion.

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“Weak Pillars of Sanity”, silencing the drama running into the brain

“My doctor walks in, hands out her gloved limb tainted with the multicolored silencers that she wants me to pill-pop to steady my weak pillars of sanity.” Those are the first verses of Ssekajja’s poem which goes through mental distress, alienation from society, sense of non-belonging and -maybe – a guilt feeling towards a family which cannot really understand him and his mind. Ronald is writer and performer of both English and Luganda.

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