“The human condition is such that suffering and distress are very much part of life.”
(Barlow & Durand, 2012)
During the course of this year, we have witnessed the brutal killing of Mthokozisi Ntumba by SAPS officials during #WitsAsinamali protests; the #ShutdownSA protests triggered by the arrest of Former President Jacob Zuma and State Capture corruption proceedings implicating several MPs; the #PhoenixMassacre triggered by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “ethnic mobilization” utterances. It then came to our attention that 10000 rapes were recorded from April to June 2021 and 23000 teenagers were impregnated from April 2020 to March 2021. In August, news broke that Alutha Pasile murdered, dismembered, and stuffed the remains of his girlfriend in a suitcase. Lufuno Mavhungu took her own life because of bullying at school whilse Rosemary Ndlovu took out several insurance claim policies on the lives of her loved ones who were subsequently murdered. Lastly, it is more important to note that youth unemployment is at an all-time high and suicide is the second-leading and fastest growing cause of death amongst the youth.
Psychologists David H. Barlow and V. Mark Durand, by the nature of that quote, suggest that suffering and distress are inescapable (and perhaps upon further analysis) and necessary parts of existence. It thus imperative to distinguish between normal and abnormal behaviour. For instance, an individual’s behavior is bordering on being a psychological dysfunction when a breakdown in cognitive, emotional, or behavioural function is associated with two factors:
- Distress or Impairment in Functioning;
- An Atypical or Not Culturally Accepted Response.
Equally, it is imperative to note that whilst distress (being extremely upset) is present, by itself as a criterion, it does not define abnormal behavior. For some disorders, suffering and distress are absent – some people enjoy the manic state so much that they are reluctant to begin or stay on treatment. Mania refers to a mental state or feelings of unreasonable euphoria, hyperactivity, and delusions which sometimes lead people to think they can do just about anything!
Interestingly, behaviour may deviate from the average for one culture but be considered normal in another. In the same breath, many people are far from the average in their behavior but few would be considered disordered. Instead, they are called “talented” or “eccentric. What is certain, however, is that behaviour is abnormal if you are violating social norms, even if a number of people are sympathetic to your own point of view. It is a necessary distinction to make when seeking to understand cultural differences.
Thus, prior to assuming that the people around us (or ourselves) are disordered, perhaps it is more functional to see their behaviours as otherwise extreme expressions of normal patterns of behaviour unless their behaviour is atypical or not associated with a culturally accepted response and it impairs functioning. Albeit labelling behaviour as “Depression” or “Anxiety” is helpful for mental health practitioners, the stigma associated with the label often delays treatment and compliance from the client – these terms are normally translated into “crazy.” In some cases, the client themselves use these labels to justify dysfunctional patterns of behaviour; to have a ‘reason’ for choosing to behave in a way which is in detriment to themselves and/or others.
#ImNotCrazy Campaign sought to explore the extent to which mental health (especially if it is stigmatized and left untreated) contributes to the perpetuation of societal dysfunction. Phrases such as “Depression is real” gain popularity and are only said after someone has committed suicide and the rest of the time, anyone who exhibits what seems like abnormal behaviour is called “crazy.” It would be a pleasure to live in a world where an individual’s mental health state is as important as their physical health; a world where you can call in sick to work because your spirit is low just as you can call in with the flu.