It happened again last month; a young Ethiopian man took his life and left a devastated community in his wake. Two months before that, another Ethiopian killed himself and likewise left a trail of questions and grief behind him. These senseless acts of suicide are becoming altogether too normal, yet no matter how often news of tragic self-inflicted deaths greet us, when we find out the fatalities are Ethiopian, it is a jolting shock to the system.
The rise of mental illnesses is not something that is isolated to our community; as humans advances technologically, we regress further into the arms of isolation and eventual despair. Smartphones, social media and our incessant need to be connected is disconnecting us from each other. This sense of detachment has become a breeding ground for depression, anxiety and other forms of mental conditions that are severely impacting the young and old alike.
Yet, as much as sorrow, angst and mental ordeals as a whole are a human condition, there is a facet of mental illness that is more prevalent and thus more insidious within the Ethiopian community and most African nations as a whole. A culture that is grounded in saving face, making our families proud and succeeding at all cost has created a paradigm where anything less than perfect is looked upon with scorn. The unrelenting pressure to “make it” comes with a tremendous cost, when we struggle with the fear failing or disappointing others, the weight of the world falls upon our shoulders.
Add to this the fact that mental illness is treated as a most taboo of topics to begin with and what you end up with is a toxic environment where people who are going through either episodic or pathological mental afflictions are stigmatized. Moreover, though it is happening with less frequency, there is still a significant portion of our community that insists on placing blame on the victim and attributing mental illnesses to sin, life choices or demonic possession. Given these backdrops, most people who are going through traumatic hardships choose to go at it alone than seek help and some seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Even those who want to spread awareness about mental illness in a positive light end up contributing to the stigma without knowing it. Too often there is a separation between those who want to help and those who need help the most. When people fear judgment, the last thing they want to feel is pity or hear lectures. Yet this is precisely what happens frequently as “you” is bandied about freely instead of saying “we”. This approach creates a distance between the person who is struggling and the person or people give support.
A better approach is to walk with someone who is going through difficulties instead of giving advice from afar. After all, no matter how much we might want to deny it, all of us—at one point or another if not in the present—have gone through the fire and had our dance with tribulations. We can go a long way to lift the stigma off mental illnesses if we stop pretending it doesn’t exist and instead have exchanges grounded in compassion. It is imperative to lift the veil of shame and secrecy that surrounds mental wellness and have a conversation as a society—the life of someone in our proximity could very well depend on it.
This Saturday, August 17th, we will be hosting a panel discussion at the Arlington Central Library in Arlington, Virginia followed up by a conversation about mental health and wellness in our community. Our aim is simple, we are doing our level best to spark a dialogue so that others can pick up where we left off. We have empaneled a group of speakers that have a broad range of expertise in the realm of mental illnesses and how to deal with their ramifications.
If you are not in the DC Metro area, we are going to be broadcasting the event live, you can tune in by going to our YouTube channel. We hope that you attend if you are nearby or start the conversation where you live. Instead of focusing on politics and ingesting the poison of zeregnenet, which are in part byproducts of national traumas we have never dealt with, let us invest our time to healing our community by talking to each other and lifting the stigma off mental wellness.Use #TenenetEthiopia to share your experiences, invite others into the discussion and spread awareness within the #Ethiopia|n community and beyond so we can lift the stigma off mental illnesses once and for all. Click To Tweet
To people who are reading this article and going through a season of distress, just know that a chapter does not a book make. I speak of these things from first hand experiences, what seems like a never ending anguish will one day turn around and be your biggest blessing. When life’s adversities come in spades, sometimes it feels like misery will never end. But today’s test will in time become your biggest testimony, just be kind and forgiving to yourself—and above all seek a support system—and in time your test will become your greatest testimony.
Location: Arlington Central Library
Address: 1015 N. Quincy St. Arlington, VA
Date: Saturday, August 17th
Time: 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM EST
RSVP by CLICKING HERE or click on the picture below
Lij Teodrose Fikremariam is the Chair of Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy. He is the direct descendant of Atse Tewodros II, the once Emperor of Ethiopia who united a fractured nation during Zemene Mesafint (age of princes) and imbued Ethiopia with a sense of togetherness that enabled them to eventually defeat Italy at the battle of Adwa. Lij Teodrose was born in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia but grew up in America. He has a Bachelor of Arts from George Mason University and an Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. Lij Teodrose believes in one Ethiopia and that a nation can only be judged by the wellness of the least among us.