Mental Health: Time to Correct the Misconceptions in Nigeria
By Oyewale Oyelola
Mental health is important to the general wellbeing of the people. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being which affects the way individual thinks, feels as well as act.
The American Psychiatric Association says the definition of mental health can be influenced by our society and culture, but most mental illnesses occur across all countries and cultures. The association added that it has a biological and psychological basis.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) describes: “Mental health as 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.”
The WHO noted that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.” People sometimes use the term mental health to mean the absence of a mental disorder.
However, the critical health issue has become controversial with different myths and misconceptions trailing mental health conversations in Nigeria. Some even limit mental illness to people living with insanity who are abandoned to the street by family members.
The myths and misconceptions about mental health have resulted to low awareness and education about its real meaning, causes, symptoms and management.
Myths/Misconceptions about mental health in Nigeria
1. Mental health problems are a result of spiritual warfare and demonic possession. People assume that mental illness is more of spiritual than medical challenge. Some educated people also subscribe to this notion, thus, militating against proper education about the critical health issue which determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.
2. People having mental illness are violent
Another misconception is that people living with Mental illnesses are violent, but the fact is that victims only exhibit violence when they are off their medications or provoked. The truth is that people struggling with their mental health in Nigeria are much more likely to be victims of violence than the general population.
3. No scientific solution to mental health
This myth has slowed down the level of awareness on mental health as a segment of the society believes in no scientific solution to mental illness. This led to ugly treatment meted out to mental health patients by their relatives; some abandoned them on the street or psychiatric hospital, seek help from inexperienced traditional medicine practitioners and take them to worship centres like churches for unproductive spiritual cleansing. These alternatives have worsened situation for many with mental illness. Recently, some constituents scolded one Nigerian Senator, Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe representing Kwara Central Senatorial district for facilitating Neuropsychiatric Hospital to his constituency.
4. Mental Health Patients cannot live normal life
The assumption that people having mental health challenge cannot live normal life is another age-long issue. Some people are of the opinion that mental illness has no permanent cure, hence patient(s) will continue to live with it and show symptoms once a while. This stigmatization has prompted some patients to commit suicide or withdraw from social interaction/activities after being treated successful. With a combination of medication and therapy, people with mental illnesses can live normal lives.
Causes of Mental Illness
Mental Health issues can develop in individual due to many factors. Mental health can affect daily living, relationships, and physical health. Factors in people’s lives, interpersonal connections, and physical factors can all contribute to mental health disruptions.
Conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety can lead to mental health issues, if not handled properly and effectively.
Also, drug abuse has been identified as another cause of mental health issue. A psychiatrist with the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Lokoja, Dr Egbeola Collins, explained that abuse of drugs and intake of energy enhancement substance can lead to mental illness.
Furthermore, having a gene with links to a mental health disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia can cause mental illness but does not guarantee that a condition will develop.
Additionally, Mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety may develop due to underlying, life-changing physical health problems, such as cancer, diabetes, and chronic pain.
Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions
The American Psychiatric Association says GAD disproportionate worry that disrupts everyday living is a symptom of mental health issue.
Physical symptoms include restlessness, fatigue, tense muscles and interrupted sleep
Getting Mental Health Issue Right
Psychiatrists and other care givers have been suggesting ways to correct the misconceptions and raise awareness about mental health in the country.
The Chief Executive Officer, (CEO) of Your Pinnacle Global Initiative and UK trained Counselor, Maria Temitope Edunsin urged Federal government to eradicate the stigma attached to mental health by educating and clarifying to people the disadvantages of mental health and counselling stigma.
Edunsin also recommended reorientation of the citizenry on mental health issue by saying: “Giving the people accurate knowledge on mental health will enable them develop and benefit from a free mind set towards certain issues and on an individual level this will allows services like ours to operate for the benefit of the people.”
A psychiatrist at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) Lokoja in Kogi State, Dr Egbeola Collins, called for government’s intervention on rehabilitation process for those who are mentally challenged.
Dr Egbeola, who explained that there is shortage of psychiatric doctors in the country, urged government to operate insurance policies for those with mental health issues.
He also emphasized the need to consult medical personnel for diagnosis and treatment of those in such condition and warned against all forms of stigmatization and victimization.
Having said that, correcting the misconceptions about mental health in Nigeria require collective effort. Government as well as development partners alongside NGOs need to devote energy and resources to MAKE IT RIGHT. Mental Health is a serious issue and must be accorded deserving attention by every individual to stay healthy.
Oyewale is a Nigerian based journalist and Editor, FactualTimes Online. He can be reach via firstname.lastname@example.org