- Many mask pain as survival mechanism

Psychologist and Clinical Social Worker, Leshomo Sebati is a firm believer in the saying ‘the village that hides the truth can’t expect to heal from pain.’

Unfortunately, he says hiding pain has been a survival mechanism for many. This, he says, could explain why Botswana is rated as one of the unhappiest nations in the world. The 2022 World Happiness Report ranked Botswana 142nd, only a few spots ahead of war-torn countries like Lebanon and Afghanistan.

“We need to acknowledge that the family institution in our country is in dire need of help. If we can acknowledge that, then we can start looking at appropriate interventions that will not only address wounds, facilitate healing and build reliance among members of the community but will also protect those who have not been affected as yet,” he said, in an interview.

Sebati recently opened up about his childhood trauma of verbal, emotional and physical abuse on, 'A la tsoga Batswana?' - a Facebook platform he co-founded with Mental Health Clinician and Psychiatry Registrar, Dr Otsile Dinama.

Titled, “Afrocentric Families: Childhood Traumas and Attachment issues,” the session saw Sebati share his experiences of living in an extended family setting with a grandmother who was not only verbally and emotionally abusive towards his mother, but the abuse trickled down to him and his siblings.

According to Sebati, his mother was given away and raised by her grandmother when she was young, as a result she didn't have a close connection with her own mother and eight siblings.

In fact, she experienced a lot of trauma due to the lack of love and the abusive nature of her relationship with her mother. It later came to light that the reason her mother didn't want her, was because she suffered postnatal depression.

At some point, Sebati says his mother had to leave them with their grandmother due to work commitments and they then became her new punching bags. It came to a point where together with his siblings, the eldest being 13 years old at the time, they decided to escape the toxic environment and went to live at their mother's incomplete house.

"I grew up in a chaotic home with grandparents, uncles and aunts who were not there emotionally and otherwise." Sebati shared the constant afflictions that he and his siblings suffered at the hands of their family including humiliation and discrimination among others.

"And remember, as a child, the most important thing is attachment and children interpret it based on how they relate with their caregivers. My grandmother was abusive emotionally, verbally and physically in the name of discipline sometimes. But that discipline was not the same for all children. Some were disciplined with love, others not so much."

Sebati says he shares his experience not to embarrass or talk bad about anyone. “But you can imagine how many people have these wounds and are taking it out on society by being abusive themselves, abusing substances or even turn to the life of crime, all because they were not shown love or what healthy relationships are like when they were kids," Sebati said.

He adds that "a survivor needs to heal, work through the pain and look for positivity. Right now I'm in a space where I am psychologically, spiritually and physically ready to fight for a better tomorrow.

"As much as I come from this past, I want to show people what I have been able to do with my pain."

On how 'A la tsoga Batswana?' came about, Sebati narrates: “We sat and talked about our individual circumstances and as well as those of others and we agreed that we were more the same than different.

“That is, our social and mental health issues are the same what is different is the degree to which we suffer such. We then agreed to put our life experiences together both from social and educational background for the benefit of our families which are the cornerstone of our communities.

"We are of the belief that there is shortage of mental health personnel and experience thus we fill that gap. We want to equip individuals on issues of mental health targeting adverse challenges they have gone through thereby facilitating healing."

Dr Dinama concurs, saying building healthy families is essential for the growth and development of the community at large. The aim is to be the best Afrocentric institution of holistic mental health in the country.

"There is no doubt that the fragmentation of the African family cell has resulted in immeasurable ripple effects that some are yet to be identified. What we used to hold onto, that brought us together: the shared identity, culture, unity, harmony, love and respect - has been stripped away resulting in a transition from external family structure to nuclear family to most recent prevalent single parent household.

"We are left with fractured family structures - plagued with hatred, jealousy, the discord and interpersonal conflicts, passed inter-generational and trans-generational conflicts, including parents fighting with their own child, discord among siblings, conflicts with partners and in-laws, mental health issues, substance use disorders, domestic violence and homicide and suicide among others. We have all been affected by these, there is no family in Botswana that hasn’t been affected,” Dr Dinama said.

'A la Tsoga,' she stressed, aims to help heal the nation by providing excellent, inclusive mental health services to every Motswana in their native language - individually tailored management plan saturated by psychological therapies, occupational services, social work and rehabilitation. The vision is to open one of our centres in 2023".