THE MENTAL HEALTH SERIES SHAME AND MENTAL HEALTH
With DAVID SIDNEY MANGWEGAPE
Reminiscing about the past recently, one thing that came to mind was a practice that was so distasteful in hindsight. During the last day of the term, pupils in my then primary school will publicly ridicule those who fared badly in their end of term examinations. This was done in full view of the entire student population and school staff! That happened a long time ago but what are the repercussions on those who were shamed?
As defined by Dr. Brene Brown, shame is an “intensely painful feeling of believing that one is flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is simply an excruciating feeling of being unworthy, bad or wrong. What can bring shame? Shame may be brought by cultural norms within a particular society. As an example, many of the LGBTI+ community members experience shame because they are stigmatised on their sexual orientation. Other people get shamed through gaslighting, especially in workplaces.
Some adverse events like sexual assault and/or rape can induce feelings of shame amongst victims. If not addressed, shame can lead to adverse mental health disorders. Shame can lead to anxiety, depression and substance use disorders.
Shame is a symptom in some of the mental health conditions. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is one such condition where shame is a prominent symptom. Having a poor selfesteem and lack of self-acceptance is one
psychological state through which shame can be experienced.
There is clearly a two-way relationship between shame and mental health problems as shame can lead to mental health problems and vice-versa. This therefore calls for the issue of shame to be addressed especially that some studies have highlighted that many do not seek mental health services because of shame. Furthermore, some patients have had their conditions worsen because of shame.
As I reflect on the events of the past, I implore the society to have compassion, be empathetic and nurture growth for all. I wonder on what could have happened to pupils that were ridiculed in the school assembly as adverse childhood experiences have a bearing on mental health during adulthood. Let’s reflect on how as a society we are aiding the proliferation of mental health problems As a consequence of shame; many careers have been destroyed whilst others have been involved in self-destructive behaviour like excessive substance use.