Briefing Paper: The Stigma of Mental Illness

By Atem Ayuen Biar (Ayuen Matok),

Melbourne, Australia.


Mentally ill men and women being held in separate cell in Juba Central Prison(Photo: file/Nyamilepedia)
Mentally ill men and women being held in separate cell in Juba Central Prison(Photo: file/Nyamilepedia)

Oct 16th, 2018(Nyamilepedia) —– Stress, anxiety and depression are common among the South Sudanese community across the globe.  This paper describes the symptoms of these forms of mental illness and suggests ways in which they can be prevented from occurring.

South Sudanese people represent the future of our country and are a valuable asset in influencing our economic growth. Therefore good mental health is a vital factor, not only for the individual but also for our country as a whole.

Stress, anxiety and depression are common in our community.  Unfortunately, in many cases they are either not acknowledged or not regarded as a mental illness.  Depression is a serious mental health issue which can affect anybody. Anxiety and depression are often found among young people and this can have a significant impact on their daily activities such as work or academic study.

Stress, anxiety and depression are often interconnected and they impact individuals in different ways.  Typical triggers include trying to meet too many commitments, living with financial hardship, and emotional breakdown.

Depression is a major problem among people who are unhappy with their lives and people who suffer from it often find it difficult to socialise, function normally, sustain interest in life, or feel pleasure.  People suffering from an episode of anxiety or depression may have difficulty going to work or school, or even doing the simple things we take for granted. They may have problems concentrating and have feelings of guilt or deep sadness which can sometimes lead to thoughts of committing suicide. Therefore dealing with depression is a significant factor in improving personal well-being.

There are various reasons why stress occurs among the South Sudanese community.  The main reason is the ongoing struggle to create a stable environment, something which can only occur when a comprehensive peace agreement has been agreed between the various warring parties.

Causes of Stress, Anxiety and Depression in the South Sudanese people:

  • Struggle to achieve a stable and peaceful environment
  • Fear of losing their life
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Financial hardship
  • Increasing instability within South Sudan.

Symptoms of Stress, Anxiety and Depression

If an individual believes that they are suffering from mental illness, then it is recommended that they consult a health professional such as their doctor.  Examples of behaviour which may indicate that someone is suffering from depression include irritability, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and finding it hard to enjoy doing fun things.

Case study: young woman facing financial hardship which was related to fraud

I met a young female who was experiencing financial hardship.  When I tried to chat with her about this she behaved in a hostile way.  As a counselor I understand that she could have been suffering from a mental illness.  The young woman was exhibiting signs of hastiness, lack of interest in daily arrangements, sadness, and suicidal tendencies. Her behavior towards members of the community was causing great concern for relatives and friends.  She was also showing signs of hypersomnia, a condition which can be dangerous left untreated.

Last week was ‘mental illness awareness week’ in Australia.  If you are living in Australia, I suggest you refer your friends, community members and relatives who may be suffering from mental disorders (anxiety or depression) to Beyond Blue.  Contact number: 1300 224 636.


The recommended general approach to dealing with mental illness is psychotherapy.  However, in more severe cases a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be more appropriate.

The people in our community who are dealing with mental illness should be encouraged to seek professional support.  Community leaders must do all they can to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining mental health and encourage people to seek support from appropriate professionals.


Mental illness is a problem that affects us all and is not only an issue for South Sudanese people who have experienced civil war.  Therefore, we must all be cautious and do all we can to maintain our mental health.

In the South Sudanese community we understand the importance of resilience, the quality which allows us to be knocked down by life only to come back stronger than ever.  It is this resilience which enables us to manage all that life throws at us and this includes mental illness.

… “It is hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and things you will ever do” – Stephen Fry.

Atem Ayuen Biar recently attained a Master of policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism from Macquarie University, a master degree of International Relations from the University of Melbourne & a master degree of Project Management from Victoria.

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