You and your mental health (1)

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There is probably no other area of healthcare or medicine that is unreasonably feared as mental health disorders.The mere mention of psychiatric illness in public domain and even amongst clinicians seems to drive exceeding panic into the minds of listeners. Yet this apprehension is unjustified and unreasonable.

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and researchers in Nigeria and indeed the world point to a very but different picture.

In the barest minimum, at any given time in Nigeria, one in every five Nigerians suffers from one form of mental health disorder or the other.  If we translate this figure into real numbers to reflect the population of Nigeria, then we shall begin to see the enormity of psychiatric illnesses in Nigeria. Let us take the calculation.

Assuming that we accept the  population of Nigeria to be 180million, and then about 36 million Nigerians are mentally unwell, at any given time. This percentage proportion (not the numbers) is comparable to what is obtainable in the United Kingdom and United States.

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To make matters worse, mental health is not only stigmatised but very often erroneously attributed mainly to drugs misuse as well as supernatural forces in Nigeria.  Yet and sadly, various religious groups, including traditional religious groups, will almost always want to “cast out the demon” that is causing mental illness in an individual sufferers. The apprehension of the society and individuals against mental health sufferers is understandable, but nonetheless irrational. The society’s fear of violent mentally disordered person is palpable.  When I ventured to work in mental health in the UK, on my first day, I was a bit timid until my senior colleagues informed and counselled me that only two per cent or less of mental health patients are actually violent or aggressive;  98 per cent goes about their lives without causing trouble to anyone. In my experience, this reflection holds true to this day. Certainly, the few violent conducts of mentally-ill patients that got into the media seem to blow the events out of proportions; yet thousands of innocent people in the world are killed by non-mentally ill persons every day via accidents, gun shots, poisoning, wars, and related violent behaviours.

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Scientific evidence does not support most cultural and religious positions on mental health. That is not to claim that religion and cultures have no role to play in the healing process: they certainly do as we shall see later. Thus, in this series on mental health, we shall be dealing with causes of mental health illness. In the weeks to follow, we shall be looking at the common disorders of anxiety, depression, psychosis as well as mental illness in children, special situations such as pregnancy and care of the elderly. For the remainder of this article, let us take a greater look at the causes of mental illness albeit, specific and definitive causes of mental illness is a continuing subject of investigation.

Taking a cue from Mind Charity (UK), the following factors could potentially trigger a period of poor mental health. Childhood abuse:  Abuse can come in various forms. It may be in the form of sexual exploitation of the innocent child – be it rape or inappropriate entry into the child or misuse of the child.  Trauma to the child or neglect of the child could result in psychological adverse effects to the extent that the individual could develop mental illness either in childhood or later in adulthood.

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Regardless of age, social isolation or loneliness could lead to depression, anxiety or frank psychosis. Similarly, someone experiencing discrimination and stigma could have his personality compromised due to degradation and undignified devaluation of the person. Such individual could suffer from various mental illness.  Bereavement or grief either due to loss of a human being or due to loss of something significant  can result in depression or psychotic depression. In the same vein, severe or long-term stress may be at work, home or due to major illness may lead to mental disorder.

Being gainfully employed contributes positively and significantly to our financial, social and mental health. Deprivation and lack of independence coming from unemployment or losing your job could lead to mental health disorder.  In line with the effect of unemploymen, social disadvantage, homelessness, or poor housing poverty and being in debt could cause one to suffer from the diseases of the mind. When a person cares for a seriously ill individual, such carer too could suffer ill effect to his or her mental health. A person that is suffering from long term illness such as cancer patients could break down due to stress and develop depression or anxiety. There is also no doubt that misuse of substances such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and alcohol could result in mental health disorder.

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(The Nation)