Vulnerability and Mental Health

Tusiime Tutu March 29, 2021

Vulnerability is not an easy notion to contend with and yet when it comes to mental health it is very vital. Fortunately, digital tools help make vulnerability less scary.

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“I never used to talk about my feelings, I was so closed up," said Rita Auma, a mental health advocate and survivor of mental illness. “The more I’m vulnerable to people I came to realize, the more I’m vulnerable to myself because I do not want to be a hypocrite. This has helped me cope. Vulnerability has enabled me to recognize the times when I’m having a relapse and acknowledge that I’m not my relapse.”

We live in a society where crying, lamenting, seeking help are all seen as weaknesses. People are told that to be strong is to harden in the face of pain. In fact, when you check the English dictionary, the synonym for vulnerable is ‘weak’. But vulnerability isn’t weakness, it is in my opinion the bravest thing one can do. To truly share one’s deepest feelings is something that can only be born of brevity. Vulnerability is not an easy notion to contend with and yet when it comes to mental health it is very vital.

Rita Auma, mental health advocate and author of 'Dear Me'

Why vulnerability is important to mental health

By definition, mental health looks at an individual’s capability to realize their abilities, cope with normal stress, be productive and make a contribution in society. But how possible is it for someone to truly be productive if there is a part of themselves that feels trampled. Someone I know lost his mother recently whilst doing his final exams for law school. It took this friend an attempt at suicide to truly open up. The truth is vulnerability scares even the bravest souls. I remember getting that call at 1a.m from a crying friend and I knew that he had finally broken.

As human beings we experience normal pressures but we all have a breaking point, a point where we can’t cope. The Catholics, at least, can always go for a confessional which works to relieve some pressure off their troubled souls. The same practice needs to be had in our normal lives. We must find avenues of vulnerability or else these pressures pile up to a point where you may find yourself on top of a building ready to jump off.

In today’s society vulnerability can only be born out of the deepest of friendships, only then can we feel safe to express ourselves. In my case, a 3:00am call to someone that is now my best friend is what saved me from going over the edge. Everyone needs a safe space. The problem though is to cultivate the kinds of relationships, even with one’s psychiatrist or counselor, to a point where someone may feel comfortable to open up will take time. A lot of us refuse therapy because we fear being exposed.

Digital tools ensure vulnerability through anonymity and private-ness

This is where digital spaces come in. Face-to-face interactions present understandable anxieties especially for people who are loners and introverts. Even a life-of-the-party extrovert may find it hard to express their true self at a coffee date with a friend. So digital spaces work to maintain a certain kind of anonymity, for example a tweet under a pseudonym might yield helpful comments of what to do without having to tell the world who you are.

In a time like this where physical contact is detrimental, digital avenues are needed to continue the human need for connection.

Not only do we feel more at ease expressing ourselves behind a screen, we also get to do it as efficiently as it ought to be. A friend of mine who took ages to see a psychiatrist and even when she did, she would usually miss her appointments, tells me that now her and her doctor are on a speed dial basis. The point is, there is efficiency in service in terms of time but also in terms of expressing oneself. For someone who has serious anxiety, the will power needed to make an appointment with a doctor, travel to meet the doctor, start a fresh interaction with a doctor, is way too much, even for someone who doesn’t have anxiety. All this red tape is then done away with, if this person can simply do a WhatsApp call with the doctor and start talking.

Digital spaces, while they maintain a sense of anonymity, are also private.

We live in a society where mental illness is shameful or people are considered "mad" just because they are ill. The ripple effect is that people refuse to admit that they have a problem and even speak about it. So there is a need to utilize the private-ness that comes with digital spaces and connect practitioners to patients. For example, Strong Minds Uganda, an organization that deals with depression for women, worked with a couple other organizations and developed a phone code that someone can dial and get help. The code is *252#, choose counselling and follow the prompts. With this, someone can get help without having to ask friends or seek referrals from workmates. Because let’s face it, we don’t like people knowing our business.

Being open might just save you

The need to be open goes to the heart of the issue. If you are not vulnerable you are just in denial and if you are in denial you won’t recognize what’s going on, at which point you might be totally on a path of self-destruction. As opposed to just being honest with yourself, try finding what’s broken about you and figuring out what can be done about it. With the digital provisions around us, find a way to open up which is the first step to mental health.