An estimated 20 million Nigerians suffer from mental illness, but that’s just Wikipedia facts. You and I know the pressures we face from everyday life, being Nigerian, and even this novel Corona Virus pandemic, raging like biological wildfire all over the world – not to mention minorities of certain forms and majority of the Nigerian populace not being completely able to pursue sustenance this period. Mental health issues have been talked about, even before now. More persons are just owning up to their struggles and trying to seek help. This does not mean that there are not others who are trapped within themselves, debating coming out with their problems and seeking appropriate help.
Before I continue, have you washed your hands today? Are you social distancing? Do you follow the laid down instructions by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control? Okay, I’m sure you do.
I want us to talk about this touchy topic – yes, us. I will read and respond to your comments whenever you seek clarity and if you want to chip in points as well. I have noticed, and it is a known fact, that whenever mental health is mentioned, the first thing that often comes to people’s minds is madness, lunacy, lack of control – which is a stereotype I want us to break from. I have heard of persons with seemingly cheerful outward personalities suddenly taking an overdose of pills to end themselves. The outward appearance does not really mirror what’s inside.
Mental health is a broad topic that doesn’t need shying away from. Africans, being religious, mostly deny the existence of mental health issues. We mostly make ourselves believe that with prayers, everything, including one’s state of mind can be modified. Yes, prayers bring respite sometimes. There are also times when one needs to address appropriately, issues that may not be readily solved with prayers but therapy or medication. Traditional medicine is also a quick run-to in matters like this. In some communities, madhouses are manned by traditional doctors or priests who with mystic powers are believed to be able to cure patients of mental illnesses.
NIGERIAN MENTAL HEALTH POLICY.
Over 13 years since the bill to protect the rights of persons with mental disorders, ensure equal access to treatment and care, discourage stigma and discrimination and set standards for psychiatric practice in Nigeria, was introduced to the National Assembly, it is yet to be passed into law. In the absence of this act, traditional and spiritual healers relate most mental illness to spiritual attacks, with no diagnoses. This has created avenues for the dehumanization and extortion of mentally challenged in the country. On 18 February 2016, a neuropsychiatrist Dr. Memumah Yusuf Kadiri appealed to Nigerian lawmakers to expedite action on the mental health bill pointing out that Nigerians still see mental health as a taboo because the country still adheres to the lunatic act of colonial legacy. – Wikipedia.
I understand that there are many misconceptions surrounding mental health. People have different opinions about mental health and illness but let me start by explaining what mental health is.
According to the World Health Organization, W.H.O, “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.
SOME OF THE MISCONCEPTIONS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
- That mental illness is incurable. Research has shown that more than 60% of people who actually seek help are controlled and cured.
- Some people also believe that mental illness is contagious.
Okay, this is so ridiculous and some of these beliefs are the reason that people rather deal with it themselves than ask for help.
Mental illness is divided into:
- PSYCHOSIS: This is a severe type of mental illness in that the affected person loses contact with reality and has difficulty functioning in daily life.
- NEUROSIS: This is a minor type of mental illness. Their personality is still intact.
COMMON MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS (NEUROSIS)
This is often accompanied by feelings of sadness, being bummed out, and/or feeling useless. Everyone feels down from time to time but if that emotion continues for more than two weeks and you also experience a feeling of guilt and hopelessness, you should probably get yourself checked.
Treatment mostly consists of medication, therapy or a combination of both.
ANXIETY AND PANIC DISORDER:
This is often accompanied by worries, fears, self-esteem anxiety and worry about life circumstances. They usually come with sudden intense anger, fear or panic. This also involves phobic reactions, heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, trembling, and faintness can be signs of a panic disorder.
Treatment includes therapy or medication, including antidepressants. Patients are usually told to avoid alcohol, reduce caffeine intake, quit smoking, practise deep breathing, exercise regularly, learn good relaxation techniques and stress management, and also to include a healthy diet.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER:
This mental health disorder is usually characterized by feelings of anxiety, fear or worry due to past traumatic event(s). It’s mostly characterized by flashbacks leading sometimes to breathlessness and persistent nightmares, all related to the original event(s). It is important to note here that symptoms might not always be the same for each patient but nightmares are most common. Lack of self-awareness in relation to the surrounding is also a common symptom. These feelings are usually “potent” enough to affect daily dealings.
Treatment includes therapy, support groups, family therapy or medication including antidepressants.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (O.C.D)
This mental health disorder is characterized by the ability of the brain to continually process unwanted and repetitive thoughts, images or urges that don’t go away easily. They are mostly uncontrolled. Some people describe it as feeling like they have to do something until it feels right. You may feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed about your experience and these feelings make it difficult to seek help.
People who suffer from any type of disorder don’t have to suffer without help. It is possible to mend the mind through therapy sessions and support systems.
Previously known as Manic Depression, this disorder is associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs. It can, if left untreated destroy relationships, careers and even academics. The exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t known, but a combination of hormones, genetics, environment (abuse or mental stress), altered brain structure or chemicals may trigger this disorder.
Symptoms require medical diagnosis and manic episodes may include symptoms such as elevated energy, low or no need for sleep and losing touch with reality. The low or depressive episodes may include symptoms such as low drive, energy or motivation and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood swings and episodes last days to months at a time and may even be associated with thoughts of suicide.
Treatment is usually lifelong and often involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy, forms of which include cognitive behavioural therapy, psychoeducation, cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy.
CAUSES OF MENTAL ILLNESS
We don’t know exactly what brings them but they stem from a combination of things, including changes in the brain and environmental stress.
Some other causes may include:
- Strong family history of mental illness
- Drug abuse
- Poor nutrition
- Cell degeneration
- Reaction to emotional pain
- Lack of family and social support
- Poor nutrition
- Support from family and friends
WAYS TO IMPROVE POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH
- Good personal hygiene and environmental sanitation.
- Adequate diet.
- Cut down on food and drinks that have caffeine such as coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate. Caffeine is a mood-altering substance and it may increase some of the symptoms.
- Exercise and get better sleep. Exercises such as jogging and biking help release brain chemicals that reduce stress and improve mood.
- Sleep problems and anxiety disorder go hand-in-hand. Endeavor to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep daily. Understanding that this might be difficult, take a warm bath and try to listen to some calm music. Leave a dim light beside you, close your eyes and try to focus your mind on the calm environment around you. It may help.
- Proper choice of friends and peer group. Stay away from people who make you question your worth; people who don’t respect you and your opinion.
- Work on your self-esteem issues. Having in mind that low self-esteem brings about doubt and uncertainty of self-worth.
- Try and meet new people with the same social interest.
- Communication is also a necessity; try to say how you feel to someone who can listen and provide good communication. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is a sign of strength and not weakness.
Also, remember to treat patients of mental health disorders with empathy.
Stay safe. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. And most importantly, guard your mind against negativity. Be positive!
REMEMBER TO RELATE WITH YOUR DOCTOR OR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IF YOU NOTICE ANY CHANGES IN YOUR BODY SYSTEM.
Chioma Nnam(Omatonia) is a writer and Community Health Extension Worker who between other things likes to educate you and me on how to have a healthy lifestyle.