Experiences and Observations From a Study on Child Marriage
PROBLEM SHARED IS HALF SOLVED?
Is that always true in relation to depression? I observed that some girls who married young found themselves struggling to juggle different roles as wives, daughters- in- law and mothers. They may show symptoms of depression like lack of concentration, lack of sleep, nightmares, poor eating habits among other things.
Well-meaning friends and neighbours as well as close relatives may advise you to:
'Snap out of the mental health problem – you think or you worry too much just snap out of it'
Expectation is to perform a miracle (do the impossible) so that the depression may disappear. The misconception is that you are being lazy or weak or you are not trying hard enough, otherwise you can make the problem disappear without seeking help. The consequence is that it reduces health seeking behaviours and such delays can be fatal at times.
TIME CAN HEAL YOU OR KILL YOU.
This brings me to the second misconception that time heals all. In relation to depression this may not always hold true. If people around the young bride are not aware of the symptoms of depression they may delay seeking help thinking the person with depression will get better with time without any counselling, psychotherapy or medical intervention. At times before we advise, we may need to pause for a moment and refer someone if they are not well.
Time is the best healer? Not always. We can use time for healing purposes or seeking help. When you are slowly slipping into depression, the symptoms spiral and increase in severity. That’s when they know you were sick all the while. Depression is a silent killer. It will be too late for mama. Remember depression is a silent killer and time does not always heal you. So seek help when you don’t understand what may be happening to you, time does not always heal, seeking help saves lives.
Way forward: still there is a great need to increase awareness on mental health related issues. The first step may be to debunk the myths surrounding mental health because these bring about issues to do with stigma and discrimination thereby leading many young brides to suffer in silence and not reach out where they can get help.
RESEARCH A WAY TO INCREASE AWARENESS ON MENTAL HEALTH
Any effort conducting research on mental health is a way of increasing awareness on mental health issues which our people need. There is nothing that beats the feeling that I had each time l interviewed a participant and realised that they had just had their 'aha' moment - that sudden realisation that they are truly unwell and it’s not that they are lazy or weak.
YOU MAY ASK
- Do you experience nightmares or bad dreams?
- Do you lose your temper a lot?
- Do you feel tired often?
In return they ask 'but is that related to mental health issues?’. Sudden realisation of the connection between the symptoms they were experiencing and their mental health. Others never thought that these symptoms may be a consequence of early child marriage. Before even coming up with conclusions and recommendations there were major takeaways from the participants when they learnt about their own mental health. I tell you it is profound and rewarding to see the softening of their faces and a surprised facial expression when they experience eureka moments. It made the research highly rewarding for me as a research assistant, knowing that l may leavee these participants better off than when l had found them because of the creation of insights into their life. I believe the study was an eye opener for the participants as it increased their self- awareness.
AFRICANISATION OF INTERVENTION FOR EARLY MARRIAGES SURVIVOR (MY EXPERIENCE OF THE DRUM NIGHT)
At a retreat for survivors of child marriage, I saw the use of new Africanisation of coping skills or dealing with trauma. How? Through the use of African drums and music.
Did you know that:
- Drumming helps to boost the immune system and promotes physical healing.
- It encourages people to release inner trauma through physical movement and brings people together.
- It is a fun release of stress and anxiety in the recovery journey.
- It also creates a vulnerability to begin the healing journey (Bitman, 2016).
- Drums are a large part of Africa’s culture and used to communicate, celebrate, mourn, or inspire.
There was a sense of belonging as we all danced to the drums and it was fun too. But was that all? I wrote in my diary about my experience that night:
- I thoroughly enjoyed myself, l had fun, and l thought that was it and l went to sleep.
- I had a restful night.
- I felt good in the morning.
- A burden was lifted off my shoulders
- Stress was reduced
- I felt relaxed
- I discovered I needed the therapy too.
My major takeaway from that retreat activity is as follows: yes we do often use western methods in practice to externalize trauma. But drumming proves to have more benefits, such as boosting the immune system and it’s what we are used to at funerals, at weddings, at church, drums everywhere. We can use drums in Psychotherapy when working with individuals or groups who have experienced trauma, be it as a result of early marriages or any other trigger. It can be a new way of healing while also having some fun. I observed that those living with trauma tend to dance more than others. Perhaps that is how the healing takes place.
Latih holds an MSc in Clinical Psychology from the University of Zimbabwe (2012). She is passionate about mental health and has over a decade of lecturing experience at local universities including Women’s University in Africa (WUA) and Midlands State University (MSU). Since 2014 she has been involved in various mental health research projects. Latih is a founding member of the community based organisation – Healthwatch Welfare Organisation (now a registered trust) which aims to promote mental health in underserved populations. In addition to that, she works in a Psychology clinic at the Women’s University in Africa now called the Psycho-social Clinic. She i the recipient of the Women’s University in Africa Vice – Chancellor Overall Best lecturer in Community/University Service (2018). Latih firmly believes that there is no health without mental health. She continues to seek opportunities that challenge her and hopes to leave her mark in the mental health landscape.