Rwanda: Mental Health – How One Mother Helped Her Teen Daughter Overcome Self-Doubt

In 2018, Lise Berwadushime had a mental health crisis that evoked changes in her moods and behaviours. She says it was propelled by the fact that she had to repeat a subject she had failed at school. More so, she had financial issues that worsened the situation- with that, she said it was hard for her to accommodate the situation.

“I spent days without talking to anyone and I couldn’t eat well. That also aroused stomach ailments,” she says.

During those ‘harsh’ days, as a teenager, Berwadushime also considered herself a failure and felt like she couldn’t do anything good.

“My heart was heavy, but after some days, it was relieved. Still in a self-judgemental mood, I called my mother and informed her about what I was passing through. She said: that is not the end of the world. Don’t worry, you can start again. Don’t base on a single subject you failed and keep feeling bad; there are others you passed,” she heartened.

Berwadushime asserts that those words from a loved one compelled her to escape her situation.

“I started eating and stopped being antisocial. I also managed to smile at other students unlike before; I didn’t feel like I had a reason to. I got the courage to repeat the subject and eventually succeeded,” she explained.

Berwadushime says her mother usually helps whenever she opens up about anything perturbing her, expounding that she soothes her and tells her funny stories that make her feel that she is not alone and that there is more to life.

She is however aware that the situation is not the same in different Rwandan families.

“Some parents have a way they worry much about their children, making the situation more stressful for them. That makes teenagers decide to keep things to themselves, along with having family members who do not understand or stigmatise their emotions,” she explains.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13 per cent of the global burden of the disease in this age group.

Recently, Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Teaching Hospital, the largest in Rwanda, reported that it had received 7,817 patients battling depression of which children under the age of 19 represented 20 per cent.

According to the USA’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, when a family member is experiencing a mental disorder, it can affect more than just the person in need of recovery.

Evidence has shown that some people have a genetic predisposition for developing mental disorders, and may be at greater risk based on environmental factors such as having grown up in a home affected by a family member’s mental health or history of substance use.

‘Create a safe environment for teenagers’

Elizabeth Niyishaka, Berwadushime’s mother, says that in order to help her daughter or any child when they are sad or worried about certain things, the first thing is to understand them and the root cause of the issue.

“You first have to understand them,” she said, “even if your daughter has made a mistake, you don’t have to focus on showing her that she is a wrongdoer or careless. You have to avoid mentioning that she is the cause of what happened to her.

“Instead, ask her what happened, tell her that God has good plans for her and that the incident doesn’t mark the end of her life. You then advise her according to what she tells you and lead her in a path that prevents her from falling into the same mistake again.”

Niyishaka also urges fellow parents to habitually converse with their children and make them their friends.

“If you are a parent and do not converse with your child, their mental health issue is likely to have started from you. When you converse with a child in a friendly way, it makes her miss you and when she gets sad or is not okay in any way, you notice that and talk to her. That way, you are also able to understand her,” she said.

“When she is dealing with the crisis, you have to stay closer to her and routinely ask her how she is, hence strengthening the trust between you and her. You have to avoid disclosing her secrets to other people for that can destroy the trust, bearing in mind that she opted to tell you because she trusts you.”

James Mugambe, a professional mental health counsellor who founded Safe Place, an organisation that works toward securing a healed community, suggests that the family members of a teenager should first create a safe environment for them – something he said is fundamental if they really want to help.

“They should avoid body shaming them or telling them that they are weak; that they will never get anywhere as well as comparing them to children of other families,” he said.

Tackling how family members can help concerning things that happen to a teenager when he is not home and can result in a mental health crisis, he declared that being accommodative to their emotions can be key.

“When you do that,” he continued, “let’s say, a young girl in your family has been raped, instead of keeping quiet about things that are eating her up, she knows that if she tells you, she will be able to get help because she sees you as someone she can trust with her emotions.”