ACCORDING TO World Health Organization ONE OUT OF FOUR PEOPLE SUFFERS FROM MENTAL SICKNESS. THE ISSUE IS A CONCERN TO EVERYONE. UNDERSTANDING AND LEARNING ABOUT MENTAL WELLBEING AND SICKNESSES MAYBE THE FIRST STEP TO BATTLING IT.
Mental sickness is traditionally often viewed in the Eritrean community as a disheartening illness. People choose to keep mental patients in the dark. The Ministry of Health, concerned institutions and professionals are devoted to change the society’s mindset and their fight is ongoing. We talk today to Mr. Yemane Atsbaha, a psychologist with fourteen years of experience and an author. Mr. Yemane has contributed a great deal to Eritrean society by providing firsthand information about mental issues. He has joined hands in the fight against breaking the silence of mental sickness, and Q&A is pleased to introduce him to you today.
- -Thank you for being here with us on Q&A.
Thank you for having me!
- -Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a psychologist. I graduated from the University of Asmara in 2005, with a major in psychology and minor in sociology and social work. After that, I worked in different hospitals and institutions. Since 2007, I have been working at Saint Mary Psychiatric Hospital as a clinical psychologist.
- -Your profession is related with the well being and illnesses of the mind, big or small. Psychology is a profession that penetrates the patients’ minds and lives. How has it been for you working as a psychologist in the course of almost fourteen years?
Honestly, the field is vast and deep. It has several disciplines. So, it would be hard to explain my job and the experiences I have gathered in such a short time. However, in general, psychology puts a focus on human beings’ mental process. It is a delicate medical study. I enjoy my profession. Learning about it and working there has urged me to firstly make basic changes on myself. It helped me acquire self-discipline and, while working, I feel grateful for being able to help people deal with their mental issues.
- -You have published three books and the first one, published in 2013, is a translation of Prof. Vikram Pratel’s ‘Where There Is No Psychiatrist’.
When I first started working as a psychologist I was highly devoted to making my own research about the well being of the mind and how societies perceive it as well as read research conducted by other professionals. Through it I came to my own conclusions that in many societies, including ours, there is not much awareness about mental issues, which urged me to think that I have to share my experience with the public. In 2010 I had started to contribute regularly articles in the health column of Hadas Eritrea, the Eritrean Tigrigna newspaper. Although I was still not an experienced writer, I gathered enough courage to translate Prof. Vikram Pratel’s ‘Where There Is No Psychiatrist’.
I worked alongside my colleague, an academician, Mr. Ermias Biniam, to do the translation of the book after reaching out for the author’s and publisher’s permission. The book deals with a myriad of topics, all related to the well being of the mind and mental sicknesses. It gives a general insight about what they are and how several issues should be dealt with.
- -How was it received by the public?
It got a positive reception. In fact, it was very much encouraging. The topics raised there are relevant to people of different ages and both genders. Its publishing was inspiring to me as a novice writer. Many people cheered the initiative. Many artists and writers refer to the book when they create their characters. And even medical doctors who specialize in other medical fields refer to the book to understand their patients. So, when translated into Tigrigna people had access to broad-ranging information about mental sicknesses and that turned out to be a big help for people in our community.
- -What about your second book? Your second book ‘Sexual Dysfunction in both genders and its intervention’ brought to light a topic that is not often raised publicly in the Eritrean community. Was the response controversial or not? Do tell us about your second book.
Some people were shocked as customarily such topics are not spoken about openly. The information presented there is very helpful.
I did come across many patients who deal with sexual issues that are triggered by mental issues that can be cured and handled clinically. For example, couples come to my office with claims of other problems but after undergoing several sessions in many cases the provoking cause turns out to be intimacy difficulties as well as tribulations of the kind caused by several factors such as social issues, trauma depression and so on. Therefore, I took my time and did research. I wrote the book hoping to give the society an introduction to metal problems primarily caused by sexual issues.
- -Three months ago you published your third book and this one is about children’s mental health.
I have worked with many parents trying to help them with their children’s mental health. I am a parent myself and so understand children, their mental growth, the dynamics behind it and their problems. Though we don’t want to accept it, children too have problems and issues that we all should learn to recognize.
Children are delicate and we, as parents and a community, need to be there for them. Understanding children and assisting their mental growth is an important responsibility. The book touches on several topics revolving around children’s mental well being and mental illnesses. My favorite topic in the book is encouraging children with mental illnesses to be part of the society by engaging them in different activities. The Ministry of Health pays great attention to this particular issue. There are, for example, many schools for children with mental sickness. Putting these children in such circumstances helps them to be spirited and lively. It surely does also help their mental condition for the better. The book ‘Children Mental Health’ has been out only for three months but I believe it is a book worth keeping in every household so that families can have a quick access to learn and assist their children in having mental well being. It is too early to tell but the response from the public is so far positive. I am also equally respectful of criticism as it helps me have a balanced opinion about my work. So I did get some criticism that I will act upon to further enhance my work.
- -Why do you spend so much time writing books? I am sure you have a pretty tight schedule with your patients.
My job as a psychologist, who is part of the community, is to share my knowledge and the experience I have gathered working with many people. Those people, my patients, as part of the society, face problems that many others face. If I share my days and observations through books then I can do my fair share to raise people’s awareness about mental well being and mental sickness.
- -Who is prone to mental sickness?
Everyone is. Life and the events we face in our daily lives can suddenly destabilize our mental functions. With globalization, today’s working environments and life trends people are prone to depression, anxiety and stress. I would like to encourage our society to be open about mental problems and seek medical help first before running to traditional practices.
- -Would you give our readers some ‘psychologist’s tips’ for a healthy mind?
Be open about problems. Talk about your tribulations. Keeping your doubts or fears for too long can cause great damage.
- -Care to share your future plans?
I can say that now that I am established as an author I will be writing more books. I am currently working on a sequel to my second book and I am noting down my observations and experiences. When the time comes I will share them with the public.
- -Thank you for your time and for all that you have done through your books. Q&A wishes you further luck!