How to tell a Mental Health story

12:01:00 PM

When the council of elders in my head decided I should go back to University, they thought Literature should be my thing, I mean I am already doing poetry, why not get the proper tips. I did not finish one semester of it but I learnt a few things when I was there, I learnt how to write or tell a story, I learnt about setting and characters, most of all I learnt about three stages; The introduction, The Climax (and its build up) and The Resolution. I remember the lecturer drawing a hill with point A and B which represented the intro and resolution respectively and the climax as the tip of the hill. I remembered her explaining that some stories have the same point as A and B, they take the reader up a hill, to a peak only to return them to where they began. These were stories by writers who use grandiose terms, gave amazing descriptions of places and times but has no theme, they did not have a lesson, a take away message. She warned us against being those writers. Unfortunately I see a lot of those all around me. I see pictures and videos by those trying to tell stories with their fancy technological know-how only to return us to the point the found us, with more scars.

During my recent meeting withRoos (@in2mh) during her recent Kenya visit, she asked me if I had heard about the photographer doing an African exhibition of persons with mental health disorders. He had done a display of his photography at Alliance Françoise Nairobi and I had seen his work to which I am in indifferent.

On the one hand, I applaud his effort to have the mental health story out there but I strongly believe that one, it needs to be controlled or channeled rightfully. There should be positive conversations associated with the displays, that awareness creation should go hand in hand with the displays otherwise the display is not different from David McKenzie’s video of Mathari Hospital. I have done a sequel to it so I won’t dwell there or on why communities opt to chain their loved ones on trees. Let’s be wise with the power in our hands, I am glad that that sequel post is one of the most read post on my blog immediately after the Tyrese one, mainly because many girls google him and the one about Conjestina. For anyone looking to document persons with mental health disorders, proper consent should be gotten from them, should they be good to give a go ahead, or their care givers with no blank promises or financial rewards.

On the other hand, I say there is a better way to tell the story, I know some of these things sell with the donor community but the same way photojournalists said there is no more taking African photographs of skiny kids with big heads and even bigger tummies, I say there are positive stories, stories more powerful than people chained. I am a positive mental health story, I am positive story, the people who have gone through Mathari Hospital including African’s Greatest Conjestina and come out better are positive stories, the strides we make in our stakeholders meetings in efforts to get policy is a positive story, the recently held World Mental Health Day, the wellness centre in Kibera, Community mental health meetings, the numerous blogs and retweets, the peanut butter project in Kibera, the goat and chicken projects in the villages ran by persons with mental health disorders so that they can get their own medicine, the weekly/monthly mental health clinics around the country, the organizations dealing with mental health in the country, the biweekly support group meetings...and this is just a scratch of the work being done from the National Level when people like me who have no medical lingo sits and exchange with those who spent their youth learning this things and their adult life treating persons with mental health disorders.

So how do we tell the story?
So many times we assume know, that every other person’s story is the same, that as long as someone has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, we readily know how it will end, that they will be a ‘write off’, that their life as we knew it is done for, we kill them before they die. That’s what everyone writing the mental health is doing, they are crucifying us before we know our sins, they drive the nails into our hands and feet before checking if we are human or beast…that’s the Danger ofthe Single Story, the Danger of a story only working on a climax not thinking of the introduction and resolution, a story we do not want to research and build up on because ‘no one cares about that, they all want to hear how loco we all are.
So how do we tell the mental health story?
1.  We remember we are dealing with human beings, humans with rights, rights like you and I have including the right to privacy. If you ever feel the need to have a password, the need to close a door behind you, they have that need too and it is up to you to protect and uphold that right.

2. We ask for consent; we may acknowledge we are dealing with humans but because once in a while they do not have the capacity to tell yes from no, we need to respect them and their care givers and have consent even if we are doing their stories from a good space.

3. We research extensively; no one story is the same as the other, we need to look at patterns; sit with stakeholders; family, community, policy makers, activists…do not tire, the mental health story is a community affair.

4. We let the person tell their story, we let them tell us about the good times, the high moments; life induced and medicine induced ones too, we listen to their ambitions, their dreams, their five year plans, we ask about their low moments, every human has one of those

5. We remain objective…it is not our story, we have no business being in the subject and giving our opinions

6. We highlight the things they can do as opposed to what they cannot do, the things done as opposed to what should have been done…we should not pick random quotes and highlight those, not pick the pictures with tears streaming and leave out the smiles and hopeful faces.

7. We follow up and update because every waking day, there is progress being made, mountains conquered.

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