Art should not speak to itself.
Soldier Lucius Banda must know this pretty well for, when he performed at 24/7 on Saturday, his second performance in Blantyre this year, he decided to let art speak to issues that have gained currency.
There are myriad issues making rounds but one that one can easily call to mind is that of suicide. Some people, it seems, have the greatest supply of anger in them, so much so that, when it boils over, the easiest way out seems to be terminating one’s life.
Lucius, while not ridiculing those that have committed suicide, chides people who believe that the best way to deal with issues is to douse the flame of their life.
“To those who are contemplating suicide; before you do so, please visit one patients’ admission ward at your preferred hospital to appreciate how people are fighting to hold on to dear life,” Soldier said in the middle of his performance at the Kameza Round-about venue in Blantyre.
Of course, the brain being a perplexing piece of biology, one cannot exactly tell the next person’s next step. Others, when troubled with an uneasy consciousness, will share their fears with others, thereby taking the load off their frames of clay.
But others, the mysterious type, get easily troubled by anything that troubles their conscience, leading to fateful awkwardness— not necessarily to those that die at their own hands but to those that remain behind.
For, in some cases, those who are occupied by destructive thoughts show no sign that their minds are occupied by the strong feeling of self-hate or self-destruction.
In the end, no one realises—until the moment of self-inflicted death—that one was psychologically pressed, literally. In fact, from the look in their eyes, nobody, not even relatives, can tell that destructive thoughts are lurking in the background, subtly chasing each other inside the subject’s brain until issues get too hard to handle.
Of course, grounds why some people killed themselves— in the case of those that kill themselves and leave behind a note— bear some resemblance to grounds that those who died before them gave for their insolence, if that is the right word.
Zomba Central Hospital-based psychiatric clinical officer Harry Kawiya puts the issue in context, indicating that, in the end, suicide seems to be the only hope for those who have run out of hope.
“Some of the causes are, for example, mental health problems – notably depression— bullying or discrimination, economic problems, especially in the case of those that were doing very well economically. The list of causes continues: End of relationship; losing a loved one; chronic physical illness; sexual and physical abuse, among others.
“People usually talk that he or she talked of committing suicide when the person is dead. Let’s take people who verbalise to healthcare service facilities for psychological first aid as one way of avoiding the trend.
“On our part, as community members, let the person who has verbalised the intent of suicide know that we care and that he or she is not alone. Let us be non-judgemental. Let us offer hope. Let us take the person seriously and let him or her vent and unload their feelings,” he said.
Just seven days ago, Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati told Parliament that the country had registered 122 cases of suicide in the first nine months of this year.
Maybe Soldier of the Poor wanted to highlight the extent of the problem when he alluded to the issue of suicide, which, with challenges such as the Covid pandemic, is getting the attention of all who care about life.
“Suicide is not the solution to problems. Hold on,” Soldier said.
In so saying, he was striking a familiar chord, one that touches on an issue that has taken the nation by surprise.
It is the issue of suicide that has taken the people, the citizenry, by surprise; not necessarily the reasons, as Kawiya has alluded to.
Sometimes, schemes, such as those of, societal norms, harmful cultures and traditions, divorce, loneliness, abandonment, among others, push people against the well-meaning inclinations of others, making death the appetising option.
It is not supposed to be the case.
While Lucius’ impressions on suicide were not desultory, he did not tackle the issue of mental powers, which may push people to extremes that may, on second thought, appear out of place altogether.
There, surely, is a need to harness the brain.
This is what the likes of William James (1842- 1910)— who studied psychology in Germany, became instructor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard in 1872, before setting up the first laboratory in experimental psychology in America in 1874— did when he observed that there was a need to invest in psychology.
He indicates, in the thesis ‘Great Men and Their Environment’, that some issues are drawn from the lower strata of the mind, so to speak— from the sphere of its least evolved functions, from the region of intelligence which man possesses in common with brutes.
“And I can easily show that throughout the whole extent of those mental departments which are highest, which are most characteristically human…as a matter of fact, the new conceptions, emotions, and active tendencies which evolve are originally produced in the shape of random images, fancies, accidental outbirths of spontaneous variation in the functional activity of the excessively instable human brain, which the outer environment confirms or refutes, adopts or rejects, preserves or destroys…”.
In Malawi, we are lucky to have the likes of Kamuzu College of Health Sciences psychologist, Professor Chiwoza Bandawe, who has already warned that the Covid pandemic had created a “second pandemic” in society, resulting in rising cases of stress, anxiety, depression and substance use.
He warns that there is a need to act on mental health-related problems before the situation gets out of control.
“We have to address a number of problems. As at now, social media conspiracy [theories], traditional beliefs and lack of trained psychiatrists are limiting progress in dealing with mental health complications that are affecting most people, especially in the face of the Covid pandemic,” Bandawe said.
Two months ago, St John of God College of Health Sciences Director Charles Masulani bemoaned that, with a population of over 18 million-plus people, Malawi only had three practising psychologists and not more than 100 trained psycho-social counsellors, a development that has exacerbated mental health-related challenges.
Malawi Police Service statistics indicate that suicide cases increased by 42 percent in three months [January to March] this year, when the country recorded 76 suicide cases compared to 44 cases in the same period in 2020.
All these facts might have prompted Lucius to add his voice— call it voice of reason— to the issue so that, at least, we can save a life or two.
Art does not talk to itself. Really.