Mental health issues are highly stigmatised, especially in African communities. This may be due to lack of information on the subject. Staff Writer HARRIET NKONJERA had a conversation with Gaborone-based psychotherapist, Mimi Dintwa, on the importance of knowing and understanding one’s state of mental health, especially in these COVID-19 times
Q: Kindly tell us about your background
A: For most of my professional career, I was a media personality with a psychology degree. I then went into psychotherapy after the first lockdown in 2020. I was invited to a workshop for teachers getting ready for the reopening of schools. It stirred something in me that was the spark I needed, and that’s when I decided to do this on a full time basis. Actually, I had previously applied for jobs as a counsellor but never got any responses. So I decided to go it alone.
Q: What is your experience of having general conversations about mental health, especially with the elderly (60 plus) when there is so much stigma attached to the issue?
A: Mental health is basically your cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being. Being able to cope with life stressors, really. It is interesting because in our culture, the only health we worry about or concern ourselves with is our physical health. The conversation is non-existent, to be honest, at least in my experience. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. One of the more positive things brought about as a result of COVID-19 is more focus on mental health. This has forced the older generation to explore what it really is.
Q: As a qualified psychologist with your own practice, would you say Batswana are open to the idea of talking to someone as a means of rectifying or properly navigating emotional or mental issues?
A: I would say more and more Batswana are open to seeking professional help. I call it `paying someone to listen’. There is obviously some skepticism here and there but I think the numbers have grown tremendously, especially over the past year.
Q: How do I know I need to see or talk to someone?
A: I would say when you know because we all have different reasons for wanting to see or talk to someone professionally. It is a very personal and delicate journey. It may be the loss of a loved one or a job, trouble in a relationship, or simply feeling the need to offload because you are feeling stuck for whatever reason.
Q: There are many options for doctors in your field. What guiding criteria must one use in selecting a mental health specialist?
A: Finding a therapist or a counsellor is like finding a pair of shoes. It has to be the right fit. Finding the right fit may mean trying on a few until you find the perfect one. Ask around, call those who are listed, and get a feel for the individual.
Q: We have been in the clutches of COVID-19 for almost two years and it seems to be getting worse. What mental challenges can arise as a result of this?
A: The most common right now is generalised anxiety. I have seen this in 90 percent of my clients who, by the way, are mostly young people between the ages of 18 and 40. Regarding services, I am a psychotherapist. So I work with clients who are affected by difficulties such as depression, phobias, stress, anxiety, emotional and relationship problems, physical or psychomatic disorder as well as behavioural problems.
In my sessions, I basically do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). we focus on general attitudes, approach, beliefs, thoughts relating to a person’s behavioural decisions and then work on changing or shifting those attitudes and turning them into positives.
Q: Do you also have a doctor that you see for your MH needs?
A: I have been looking more into this, especially now because I am also living in a world that is battling a pandemic. Although I am equipped to handle the situation better than others because of my professional advantage, it is important for all of us to ensure that we are mentally okay.
Q: Amid all the COVID-19 chaos, life must go on. What suggestions do you have to make this time less harrowing?
A: I always encourage my clients to focus more on the things they enjoy doing – listening to music, reading, exercising, just to help get their minds off the realties that we are faced with every day. So we all need to concentrate more on the positives to keep us sane.
Q: People are getting laid off, lives have been lost, schools have had to be closed and the cost of living continues to rise. These are all situations that can affect people’s general health, including MH. Are there any DIY exercises for families to cope?
A: Communication is key. Looking in on how the family is or is not coping with things COVID-19. Believe it or not, talking it out helps; expressing your frustrations and fears in a healthy manner, that is. It is also important that people maintain their hobbies. If those hobbies are limited because of COVID-19 restrictions, then find innovative ways of still doing them. It is important to try to keep a balance of work and play.
Q: Most people are suffering silently because they are afraid of something or someone. What would your advice be in such situations?
A: My advice is that because you’re already in a bad space, what’s the worst that could happen by reaching out to get help? We often fear the unknown and focus on what could go wrong. But there is a possibility that things could go right. The Internet has made it easy for us to find answers. So go there and find out what you can do to make things better and then takes steps in that direction.
Q: How does one get hold of you?
A: I am based in Phakalane in Gaborone but I do offer virtual sessions as well. For more information you can call or text 77629422 or email firstname.lastname@example.org