When mental health shakes the arts
For any artistic person to have their juices flow freely in as far as creativity is concerned, it requires that they must have all their faculties in order. It goes without saying that for one to produce something comprehensible and worth listening to, looking at or reading, the person must be of sane mind.
During a study called Attitude towards mental illness in Malawi, which was done in 2012 by Jim Crabb, Robert Stewart, Demoubly Kokota et al, most people attributed mental disorder to alcohol and illicit drug abuse. Others went on to mention brain disease as well as spirit possession and, finally, psychological trauma. According to the researchers, however, no consistent trends were observed in stigmatising beliefs.
That gives one an overall glimpse of the mental health scenario in the country and though there have not been that many cases in the arts circles, one cannot rule out situations where we have had artists struggling to exorcist their ghosts such as drug and alcohol abuse.
From the likes of Third Eye, Martse all the way to Klassik; they have all, at one point in time, opened up about their struggles with issues such as alcoholism and drugs.
Another famed artist who has had her fair share of mental issues is South African singer Zahara, famed for hits such as ‘Loliwe,’ who, in April 2021, signed with the record label Warner Music. She had admitted during an interview with Channel O that she turned to the bottle way back and was using alcohol as a ‘stress reliever’. Her battles with depression are well documented.
Many people were worried when a video emerged last year showing the talented singer, seemingly intoxicated, in the company of some men. It is said, however, that since inking her new record deal, Zahara has changed a lot.
You will therefore understand the shock and disbelief that accompany any news that emerges showing that an artist is struggling with mental health issues, or worse still, dies from depression and related issues, not just in Malawi but even beyond the country’s borders.
Such was the feeling among those who follow arts when South African rapper Riky Rick reportedly committed suicide on February 23 2022. This shook the entertainment industry and it even got some of Malawi’s own stars talking about mental health issues.
“Brethren, let’s normalise checking on each other. Sometimes we come here and present ourselves as if everything is okay, yet there are silent battles being fought behind the scenes.
“We may pretend we are strong here, yet we are going through hell and we don’t even know what to do. Depression is one monster that is tormenting us and taking our beloved ones,” Thocco Katimba wrote on his Facebook page.
This stance by some of our artists, who have decided to speak out on the subject, is something that has to be encouraged. It is time people started talking openly about such matters and, where need be, use their creativity to address the matter of mental health.
In January this year, veteran South African actor Patrick Shai took his own life and was allegedly found hanging by his wife in their matrimonial home. His death came only days after he had been cruelly criticised by Twitter trolls in response to a video in which he had challenged rapper Cassper Nyovest to a boxing match.
One of his close friends, Thabang Sefotho, had said the actor confided in him about the mental anguish he was experiencing during his final days.
It is, therefore, worth noting that every time such incidents occur, it shows that, too often, the society tends to ignore or look away from such pertinent matters and, as a result, people get hurt under circumstances that could have otherwise been avoided or, worse still, lives are lost needlessly.
It, therefore, felt kind of re-assuring in light of Riky Rick’s death to see some of the local faces in entertainment circles raising their voices on social media forums, advising fans and the public at large on the need to give the issue of mental health the attention it deserves.
“Let’s take mental health issues seriously! We have another monster in our midst,” actor Ashukire Mwakisulu wrote on his Facebook page.
Global entertainment icons raising voices
It is not only the continent of Africa that is trying to get to grips with mental health issues such as depression. Even the entertainment mecca, Hollywood in the United States of America has had its fair share of having celebrities struggle with mental illness issues. Artists such as Katy Perry, singer actress and producer Selena Gomez have opened up on such struggles while world renowned figures like Prince Harry, Kim Kardashian have also spoken on the issue.
One of the most memorable cases in Hollywood that saddened the world and, in a way, tried to bring attention to the issue of mental health, was the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams. He died by suicide in 2014 at the age of 63. It is reported that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but an autopsy showed he had Lewy body disease.
National Institute on Aging, on its website, defines Lewy body dementia (LBD) as ‘a disease associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain and the deposits, called Lewy bodies, affect chemicals in the brain whose changes, in turn, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behaviour and mood.
One can, therefore, see from the above that much as Williams was known as a jovial fellow and, would easily turn around the hype of any perceived dull moment, there were some ‘demons’ that were haunting him and sadly, he took his life without the world even realising that their famed comedian was not his usual self.
Thus, the local entertainment industry ought to now raise the profile of mental health issues to ensure that artists, and people at large, who are faced with such struggles get to seek help in time or simply reach out to someone who can lend an ear.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).