You and your mental health (5)

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In the preceding article, we discussed psychotic mental illness and specifically, we explored the features and treatment of mania and hypomania. In this concluding part of this series, we shall discuss schizophrenia. And in rounding off, we shall take a look at mental health in some peculiar situations.

Schizophrenia, on the other hand, may not be as dramatic as mania or hypomanic patients. The illness may be slow in coming or be a sudden breakdown. One key distinguishing feature is the fact that schizophrenic patient may claim to be hearing voices from as far as anyone can imagine or perceive a voice within him/her or from nearby or from any object. He or she may even claim that he has ability to hold conversation with God. They may experience abnormal smell perception or changes in body image which is unreal or make a completely strange claim that in reality is untrue in a delusional manner. Further, the thoughts of schizophrenic individual are totally disordered. Thus, their way of life may become disorganised. Their thoughts (and hence speech) being chaotic may lead them to suffer self-neglect or become violent or aggressive to themselves or members of the community. The latter is the type that the society often sees and thus wrongly projects unjust apprehension against the rest of the mentally unwell. In reality, most schizophrenic go about their lives unnoticed.

Treatment of schizophrenia: The most important thing is to notice and take seriously changes in one’s way of life and thought or note should be taken by members of the family and friends. Once such notice is taken, a stitch in time saves nine. The sufferer should be taken, urgently, to the most appropriate healthcare personnel;  not a place to further physically, psychologically or chemically harm the mentally unwell, which by now is vulnerable and unable to self-defend. There are suitable medications to help deal with disorders of schizophrenia. The sooner this is taken and maintained the better the outcome; the more the delay the worse the outcome. The result of lack of medical care and supervision is glaring for all to see. It’s not my intention to make prescriptions of the specific medications here.

Mental illness in the children: Children are very vulnerable and they frequently suffer abuse, neglect, deprivation and injuries in the hands of their carers, guardians, family members and rarely in the hands of strangers. Such experiences are the perfect grounds for mental illness, which may also develop in childhood or in adulthood. Mental illness in childhood may develop as a result of injuries at birth or damages that occur during pregnancy, whatever the cause.  Very often, such injuries may give rise to low intelligence or epilepsy seizures in the child.

Treatment: It’s crucial to note that the mentally infirm and in particular children are vulnerable to exploitation. They need to be protected and be treated in an appropriate environment away from the mentally unwell adults. Mentally unwell child should not be classified as a “witch” or “evil child” on the basis of their behaviour. Such clarification is a recipe for abuse that may follow.  In a lot of ways, counselling, in combination with suitable medications, tender love and care environment may be all that may be required as well as family therapy with appropriate professionals.

Mental illness in the elderly: An elder is someone who is 65 years and above or anyone being not yet 65 years old but whose physical and mental condition allow him or her to be appropriately cared for as an elder. Like an adult person, an elderly person is also subject to various forms of mental illness that I have discussed here but most especially depression/anxiety and dementia. The depression is often due to loneliness, loss of partner, retirement or lack of daily productive activities. Dementia can be due to the natural aging process (senile dementia) or Alzheimer (most marked by memory loss) or other variants of dementia. As in children, so is in the elderly. They are physically weak and being now further vulnerable due to mental illness. Older people are subject to serious exploitations. The family should take note of any deterioration in the health of their elders. Steps should be taken to protect the interests of the elderly and to take the ill to a good place of care where they can receive attention.

Mental illness related to pregnancy: About 2 per cent of women will develop psychotic illness in situations relating to childbirth and about 20 per cent may develop experiences of “blue” or depression as a result of childbirth. Most of such women don’t come forward for help. Partners and families should not classify such deterioration as “spiritual attack.” Steps should be taken urgently to seek psychiatric attention for the new mother.

Mental health and the law:  Some criminals are mentally unwell. Some mentally unwell have criminal behaviours. This is one of the areas where medicine meets the law.  Sadly, we do not have effective law in Nigeria as yet that may compel doctors and law enforcement agents to subject mentally unwell to compulsory detention and treatment. Relying on my personal experience working in the United Kingdom in mental health, I suppose the time is overripe for Nigeria to have an up-to- date mental health Act that will care for the mentally infirm in our communities.

Prevention of mental illness: Good rest, stress less lifestyle, exercise, good nutrition, avoidance of trauma and abuse, avoidance of dangerous substances will go a long way to preserve our mental health in addition to seeking medical help urgently when things do go wrong in our mind. There is nothing to be ashamed of in mental health. It may be you. So seek help. Have you have been impacted by the content of this article or you need some clarification?  Kindly call 07087733114 or 08188343865 for support.

(The Nation)