Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Mental health according to World Health Organization is a state of well being in which every individual realizes his/her own potential. Where every individual can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his/her community.
Referring to this definition when talking about mental health in Nigeria with the current economic and social situation allow me to say that the most recent statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health is justifiable. The number of people suffering from one mental illness or another could be well over the mere 30% that was recently announced.
Considering our reality that 86.9 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty, people can not afford to eat, children can not go to school and you know Poverty is defined as not being able to provide your basic necessity. With this knowledge would you say that an average Nigerian on the street is coping with life, is being productive and making a contribution to his/her community.
Nigerians are resilient people and even though they go through a lot, they rather suffer on the inside, than share their burden with others. Due to the fear of being judged or ridiculed.
Mental health affects how we think, act and feel through life from childhood, adolescence to adulthood. Below are factors that affect mental health:
- Biological (genes, brain chemistry etc.)
- Life experiences (trauma, abuse etc.)
- Family history of mental health problems
- Environment (war, disasters, extreme poverty)
Common Mental Health Disorders
- Anxiety disorder ( Panic disorder, phobias etc.)
- Mood disorder ( Depression, Bipolar disorder etc.)
- Psychotic disorder (Schizophrenia etc.)
- Eating disorder ( Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa etc.)
- Impulse control and addiction disorders (Kleptomania, Compulsive gambling etc.)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Other less common ones include: stress response syndromes, dissociative disorders, sexual and gender disorder, Somatic disorders, sleep related disorders, dementia, alzheimer’s disease. All these and more that affect the brain.
There would be a detailed post about the various types of mental illness here on BWS. This post is just to create an awareness about mental illness in general.
The stigma and discrimination towards people known to have mental illness in Nigeria is alarming and we need to work on it as a country.
Mental Illness = Madness
Madness = Juju
This is what has been passed down from generations. It may have affected our approach to the mental health issues and the availability of help for people suffering from mental illness in our country.
We should create enough awareness about it in our communities. Educating them about the causes, symptoms and management of these conditions. Especially for the families of people suffering from a mental illness. Let us not be quick to toss our loved ones on the road for something that can be managed.
Early warning signs of Mental health
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little.
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual.
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful. On edge, angry, upset or scared
- Yelling and fighting with family and friends
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can not get out of your head
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Hearing voices, seeing things that are not true
- Inability to perform daily tasks
First step is to accept that you or someone you love has a mental health issue. Do not say things like: “depression? Ahhh is that not white people’s disease?!!! abeg buckle up”
“it is not your portion”
- Get professional help: You can be given drugs to manage the symptoms or therapy to get an in depth knowledge about the cause of your symptoms.
- Connecting with others: socializing and connecting with others can make you feel less alone and gives you something to look forward to.
- Staying positive: you are what you think, and you attract what you are. There are bad days and good days. Have you noticed, when your day starts off bad it continues that way? That is because you decided that the day was just going to be all bad. If there is nothing to be positive for today, you can be positive because you are ALIVE. It is a big deal.
- Getting physically/ mentally active: get involved in activities. My dad always say: an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Which means you have unwanted thoughts, spinning things until it is out of control. It is dangerous to leave your mind to its own vices when you should be the master of your mind. Engage your mind and body with activities that would make you happy and help you be a better human being.
- Helping others: this is my favourite one. It takes your mind off yourself and your own problems, makes you feel fulfilled that someone needs you. Gives you the sense that no matter where you are in life or how bad you think things are going for you, someone has it worse. It makes you grateful.
- Getting enough sleep: recommended 8 hours sleep by the scientists is not a made up theory. Sleep time is when your body rejuvenates and gets you renewed for your tasks the next day.
- Develop coping skills: first learn what triggers your symptoms. Know your illness and body so you can learn how to help yourself. For some people with anxiety disorder, they cope by taking deep breathes or a time out, removing themselves from a certain situation and revisiting it at a later time. Some people talk to someone, like alcoholics or people with drug problems. They usually have a “sponsor” that they can talk to when they really feel the urge.
There are more ways to be in control of your mental health issues, own it! When you see a FAMILY member, a FRIEND or ENEMY going through mental illness, be their support. We can end stigmas surrounding mental illness in Nigeria when we see it as any other disease.
Do not be ashamed of it. Even the happiest people could be going through mental illness when the world is not looking. We keep hearing about people committing suicide because they got tired of living.
Let your story not end that way. Speak up! Get help! The world is blessed to have you.
If you do not know where to start, we can help you. Cheers to acceptance and getting better.
Peace and Love.