The mind intrigues me. I often wonder about how delicate and yet powerful it is. It has a significant impact on the course, and outcome of life. It needs deliberate care, and should never to be taken for granted. The mind must be stable, for one to achieve an effective and productive life.
The ailments of the mind are generally not physical, and oftentimes appear to have no obvious life-threatening consequences, which usually leads to treating these diseases with less importance, first by the individual, as well as close associates. It suffers the tragedy, of being diagnosed as a problem caused by an unseen force, requiring treatment of the same nature, unlike toothache, malaria or cancer. To treat the illness, more emphasis is placed on resolving it spiritually, without any recourse to professional help, thus complicating the problem.
The faulty perception about mental illness, continues to give rise to all kinds of myths and misconceptions, caused by inadequate knowledge and lack of awareness of the illness, thus resulting in the widespread stigma against this health condition.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has this to say:
• Mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide.
• About 800 000 people commit suicide every year.
• Human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disability are routinely reported in most countries.
• Globally, there is huge inequity in the distribution of skilled human resources for mental health.
In Nigeria, comprehensive information about Mental Health is hardly available, making it difficult to provide the right platform for formulating adequate policies, and to provide the much-needed support. The need for education and awareness about mental illness, cannot be over emphasised. A lot more needs to happen, regarding efforts geared towards gathering accurate, and adequate data for mental health management in Nigeria.
The current policy on mental health in Nigeria was formulated in 1991. It focuses more on deterring harm to third parties, and not enough attention paid to the rehabilitation of the victims. As a nation, it is time to pay a bit more attention to the plight of the mentally ill, no matter the stage of illness.
In comparism to other aspects of health management, the custodians of the Federal Health Budget, will do well, to increase the percentage allocated to managing mental health in Nigeria, particularly in the areas of research, training of skilled personnel, and support for advocacy.
As a country, we will need to pick up the pace, especially with passing into law, of the Bill for the establishment of the Mental Health Act, by the National Assembly, as well as catching up with the requirements of the Global Treatment Standards, adopted by the United Nations for Mental Health.
Often, what we do not understand, we choose to fear (Dan Brown, 2009). We don’t understand why people have phobias, anxiety disorders, mood swings, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, suicidal behaviour etc. Since we don’t understand why and how clearly these issues have impacted their lives negatively, we choose to give them labels such as crazy, looney, etc, possibly to make us feel more comfortable, thus disempowering ourselves with the ability, and opportunity to provide help, or any form of support.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, says that mental illnesses can be caused by any of the following:
• Family history of mental health
• Genes or brain chemistry
• Traumatic life experiences
Mental illness, is not a choice, but a disease. You do not ask for it. It is time, To Stop The Stigma against this class of people. It is also time, to stop the stigma, even against yourself!
I will be the first to say, Chinweoke, stop the stigma, even against yourself!!! I have suffered claustrophobia, a form of anxiety disorder, which is a form of mental illness, from early child hood, which grew worse over the years. It hindered my life. I avoided entering airplanes, elevators, and even avoided going into banking halls, because of the security doors, once these where deployed in Nigeria. The fear of being in an enclosed environment was just so overwhelming for me. I missed out on a lot of important activities. These included family events abroad, conferences, Seminars, etc. I have lived like this for a very long time.
I have had thoughts of suicide persistently for most of my life, clearly brought on by depression, which I refused to acknowledge. I couldn’t associate myself with such uncool issues.
Regarding suicide, my Christian Faith protected me from this outcome. I have only recently gained knowledge, and understood that both situations are valid illnesses, and nothing to be ashamed of. I got past the stigma against myself, and received help. I spoke up, and got treated. I spoke to a Dr. school mate practicing in the United States, who prescribed medication that has worked tremendously well for me. It is amazing the difference speaking up, being open and receiving help makes. The problem, the obstacle, the monster, is the stigma, and not really the illness!!!!
Not owning up, sets you up to fail. First you don’t acknowledge the problem, and when you do not acknowledge the problem, how can you understand well enough to ask for help? The stigma stops you right in your tracks, you are ashamed to speak about it, you hide from yourself, you get too proud and can’t be associated with such a label, ‘mentally ill’ then you cower, and you lose the quality of your life, and then your life itself, eventually.
There is help, there is hope, there is treatment at every stage. Get help, get treated. Live life. Save a life.Medicine was provided as a gift by the One who created the Heavens and the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. In His Magnificence and Mercy, He provided solutions and cures for diseases by instilling intelligence in mankind for the development of medicine, which He intended for good. There is no way mankind could have done so without His empowerment. We will need to do our part, by doing all we can to get help from what He has created. When we come to the end of ourselves, He will do the impossible.
To family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances, you can help by getting informed, so you know what the signs are, and you know what to do to help. Read between the lines, listen to save a life. Say no to Mental Health Illiteracy!
Quickly, I would love to share what the early tell-tale signs are, do not ignore these:
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Pulling away from people and usual activities
• Having low or no energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Having unexplained aches and pains
• Feeling helpless or hopeless
• Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Yelling or fighting with family and friends
• Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• Thinking of harming yourself or others
• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
Vital information: One or all of the following symptoms must affect and hamper the quality of your life significantly, to be determined as an early sign of mental illness, whether mild, moderate or pronounced.
Stop the Stigma, help someone today by being knowledgeable!
Okpalaji is a professional with over 20 years in the Maritime, and Oil and Gas Sector. Her fascination with the state of the human mind and how this affects their basic output, whether personally or professionally, has been the driving force behind her current course of study at the University of South Wales, for the award of an MSc. in Business Psychology (In view). She hopes to be part of a larger group, that changes the narrative regarding Mental Health Awareness and Mental Health Policies in Nigeria, with the intention of breaking the stigma, improving mental health literacy, and overturning unfavourable laws. She is the Founder of HeadsTogether Nigeria, a Mental Health Awareness Non-Governmental Organization for Women and Children.