Don’t say “I do” yet: Check your mental state first

Monday May 16 2022
Couple

A couple speaking to a counsellor. PHOTO FILE

By Ramadhani Ismail

Weddings are the most exciting and wonderful to have when blessed with them. However, at times, they can be a mess fuelled by the mental health status of the partners.

While making the preparations along the way, it is very important to make sure that you don’t forget to check your mental health before getting committed to a forever relationship that may possibly damage you.

Health experts say that 12 percent of Tanzanians suffer from mental illnesses, many of whom are in the age range of 17 to 24. For the record, this is the range of a legal marriage in the country according to the constitution.

We have been hearing and seeing immoral activities in families. These include parents having a love affairs with their children, child abuse cases and sexual violence.

If we look closely enough though, many of these cases are driven by mental health issues. The majority enter into marriage without checking and being aware of their loved one’s mental health.

In 2020, the World health organization (WHO) said that one billion people around the world were left dealing with mental health, whereby the most affected are teenagers, who are going into relationships, marriages and family responsibilities at a young age and ill-equipped.

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Tanzania is estimated to have aboutseven million people with mental health challenges. Of which many are caused by leading difficult lives, stress and the desire to have a better life.

It is hard to note if a person suffers from mental health issues unless they have reached dire stages.

Throughout their lives, they may encounter challenges that keep them in the battle with depression which leads to them experiencing an array of mental health problems.

Bosco Bosco, a Counselling Psychologist at Mental Health Tanzania (MHT), who has extensive experience in providing treatment to patients with different cases such as depression and sexual disorders, provides us with the insight into the mental health state here in Tanzania when it comes to relationships.


What is mental health?

Wikipedia defines mental health as encompassing emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

It influences the cognition, perception and behaviour of an individual.

It also determines how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making.

Mental health includes subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others.

“Mental health then covers all the factors that surround what an individual goes through on the daily and their ability to cope with situations that would alternately swallow them up,” explains Bosco.


Factors that lead to mental health challenges

There are a lot of factors that lead to mental health issues however, major factors include self-esteem, the value we place on ourselves, positive self-image and a sense of self-worth.

Bosco added that some factors include the genetic inheritance from our parents, brain structure, the environment which surrounds us, age, and sex, violence of all kind, work overload, drug and substance abuse as well as long term use of medication.


Importance of a pre-marital mental health check

A health check-up is important because it offers early detection between partners and gives one access to the right information that can be used to help affected partners.

According to Bosco, a mental health check-up before marriage helps to improve the relationship and put partners in a better position to choose their desired lifestyle.

“If a person can understand the mental health of their partner, communication will be much easy between them,” he said.

He added that mental health screening helps to reduce sexual dysfunction meaning, which makes it easier to deal adequately with normal social relations.

Some partners have endured various forms of violence from childhood and they will receive help to resolve all of their long-standing and deep-seated traumas to be better equipped to deal with their marital responsibilities.

Couple’s therapy counselling is also very important to make sure that those who are in the relationship improve their life and their relationship.

It is well recommended to have therapy to help remove these immoral behaviours that happen in society.


What is the right age for a mental health check-up?

“Mental health problems can start to appear from as early as 2 years of age when a person begins to be self-aware and fuelled by the environment which surrounds them,” explains Bosco.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also states that most mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. All these because of changes experienced in schools, leaving home, starting university or even a new job which could lead to stress and apprehension.


Sam Sasali

Media personality and pastor, Sam Sasali also cements that mental health is the ability to persevere in consciousness (unattainable mind) in response to negative or positive impulses, leading to a decision.

Being able to understand what marriage means is the first step to being aware of what is all about.

“Marriage has three major meanings. The first is spiritual in that marriage is a covenant of living together in faithfulness between a man and a woman. Secondly, marriage is about the social. Even if you do not agree to have a formalised union, a man and a woman living together for an extended period of time are recognized as husband and wife. Thirdly, marriage is all about the legal agreement that people agree to and may terminate in the future,” he says.

In our discussion, Sam Sasali narrates that, “the importance lies not only in the testing but in the ability to track mental health records of the family. It is very important to examine and trace the history of mental health because marriage is a life that requires a lot of mental decisions.”

He further added that marriage has emotions that require great mental strength to be able to recognize the consequences of.

Most of the sexual violence in marriage is contributed to mental health, not only for men but for women also.

“Those who are looking to start married life are supposed to be willing live together through seasons. Marriage is built on commitment and the inner forces. Sometimes it needs physical, spiritual and psychological health awareness to navigate. If the person can recognize their health in those areas, they are able to live with any person,” he narrates.


Mohammed, 30 - businessman

Mohammed has been in marriage for almost 4 years and explains that they have experienced different situations and arguments which in retrospect, are thought to be related to mental health.

“There is a point I reached and started to ask myself why I’m living this life. I argued a lot with my wife. She always questions about my work which I didn’t find necessary,” says Mohammed.

He narrates that nowadays, he chooses to take some space and time to be alone because he has learnt the importance of having mental health check-ups.


Aziza, 36 - hairdresser

Before being in her current happy marriage, she was a victim of mental health issues. She always wanted to have ‘space’ in whatever relationship she was in.

“Not all people would be able to understand what you’re going through, I have two children, I have a job and I need to take care of both of which sometimes I lose direction in understanding myself,” she says.

After a couple of years, she chose to undergo psychological treatment. The treatment changed everything and helped her nourish the better her that she always dreamt to become.


Oprah, 24 - model

Speaking with Oprah, she narrates that one of the areas that she takes care of and is always being careful about is mental health. Exercise and reading helps to keep her away from being depressed or anxious.

“What people need to understand is that when you feel bored, always try to give yourself a break and take time for yourself. This helps bring more time for yourself to refresh and reset,” says Oprah.


Benefits of having mental health check-ups

It is said that most married people who have mental health check-ups and understand each other’s behaviours are less likely to get heart attacks and depression.

Sometimes in a relationship people fight but the reality is that if the two know and understand each other better, it will help them to solve some issues which are related to their quarrel.


Security

Mental health awareness helps people provide each other with a sense of security. They don’t have to wonder if the person is coming home or what they are thinking. They are free from the worry that their partner is secretly unhappy or hiding some big secret.


Better sex

Because of good communication that comes as a result of mental health awareness between these two partners, they are more likely to have good sex. In most relationships nowadays we carry things over into the bedroom.

Mental health problems give room for people to be insecure which in turn leads them to using sex as a weapon.


Better understanding of body language

If you have had a chance to check your mental health status, you have an increased chance of better understanding where the other person is coming from.

You would also be able to understand how to express love as opposed to spending so much time teaching each other ways to love instead of appreciating each other’s company.


Helps in setting and accomplishing goals

Imagine having a partners to set and accomplish life goals with. It is very important to be able to check the mental health status as a couple, often too, because sometimes in life, we get frustrated when our plans and life do not go the way we wanted it to be.

Mental health in relationships and marriage should be taken in severity, especially with the changes we are currently exposed to every day.

It is imperative to be able to identify problem early onset because the ripple effect that mental health has is not just limited to the patient; rather it falls on and affects those that surround them.