As the world marks Mental Health Day, Blessing Ina, a mental health advocate, pens this revealing piece for us all.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity while mental health is a state of well-being where an individual recognises his own potentials, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and can give back to the community where he belongs (WHO).
The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has declared the 2021 World Mental Health Day to be themed – “Mental Health in an Unequal World” to underline the pressing need to focus sufficiently on health beyond the physical in a sustained way in a world still struggling with the fight against the coronavirus.
The Covid 19 Pandemic has increased in equalities in human development including dealing a blow to mental health by causing more incidence of mental disorders and disrupting already limited mental health services.
Mental health disorders are also accompanied by stigma and discrimination, thereby affecting education and livelihood opportunities what is even worrisome is that there is this correlation between the prevalence of mental health and suicide mental disorder causes far more consequences like premature mortality. Covid 19 disease, death of kith and kin and loss of income has caused mental health conditions or aggravated pre-existing conditions, even is some cases causing a spike in substance Abuse. Covid 19 its self can cause neurological and mental disorder.
Mental and behavioural disorders affect people of all countries and societies, regardless of age, gender and income and it is not uncommon in Nigeria. Yet there is a considerable neglect of mental health and those who visibly suffer from mental illness are largely stigmatized. An estimated 20-30% of Nigeria’s population is believed to suffer from mental disorders; this finding corroborates with the 2006 WHO-AIMS report which claims that about 20 million Nigerians suffered from mental illness and a good number of them go without professional assistance. The reasons for this high figure had been attributed to economic hardship, negative environmental externalities and the rising cost of decent living in the country. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is very poor and fleeting. The level of public awareness on mental health issues is also understandably poor and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish. Poor knowledge of mental illness, its causes and characteristics among Nigerians has been a major hurdle to improving mental health in Nigeria.
One in four Nigerians are suffering from some sort of mental illness. According to WHO, the prevalence was 56.6% with the commonest being depression (20.8%) alcohol dependence (20.6%) substance dependence (20.1%) suicidality (19.8%) and anti-social personality disorder (18%). Only about 3.3% of Nigeria’s health budget is allocated to mental health out of which 90% goes to support the specialist neuropsychiatric hospitals for payment of salaries and recurrent expenditures. This makes it impossible for the sustainable development goals (3) to be achieved in mental health.
In Nigeria the disparity between available healthcare services and need for mental health services is palpable. Although the country has made significant advances on challenging public health problems, health related policy development and legislation in trying to achieve health for all policy, there have been challenges with regards to mental health services including that of policy development and legislation, financing, research, training and integration of mental health care into primary health care.
In 2015, the Christian Blind Mission, Australia in Collaboration with the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Ibadan premiered a programme on Mental Health Service Scale up Nigeria (MHSUN). The programme was centred in Ibadan but covered five West African countries, (Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia).
Trainings were carried out for service users, service givers, the press, cooperate bodies and civil society organisations. With good sponsorship, the selected states used for the pilot programme were Cross River and Kaduna states. Two local government areas from Cross River State, namely Odukpani and Yakurr were fortunate to benefit from the awareness creation and treatment of existing cases in traditional healing homes, the churches and the communities. This programme was welcomed by the Primary Health Care Coordinators, the Local Government Chairmen and Paramount Rulers through advocacy visits. A good job was done with the anticipation of stated government’s involvement and proper legislation for government policy/funding of mental health all to no avail. All efforts by CBM/MhSUN ended without a pat on the back by the government of the day. This is the place of mental health care services. This is the time to imagine out an approach towards mental health care beginning with increasing the budgetary allocation.
Stigma/misconceptions/discrimination, have been the major cause of the draw back in mental health services and illnesses. Stigma means a mark of shame, disgrace, infamy, when someone is defined by others because of their illness rather than who they are
Misconceptions – are false beliefs/myths, etc. Discrimination is when someone treats you in a negative way because you are mentally ill.
These factors can make the problem worse and stop the person from getting the help they need.
Learn to see the person first for who they are before looking at the illness.
People should learn to challenge others when they speak negatively of a mentally ill person.
Harmful Effects Of Stigma
Feeling of shame/hopelessness and isolation.
Reluctance to ask for help or to get treatment.
Poor social interaction.
Bullying, physical violence and harassment.
Self-doubt, the belief that they will never overcome the illness or be able to achieve what they want in life.
Dealing With Stigma
Get mental treatment you need.
Do not believe in the stigma you are faced with.
Do not hide away.
Connect with others.
You are not your illness.
Do not believe that people’s judgement of the illness is connected to you.
Looking After Our Mental Health In The Face Of COVID 19
As countries introduce measures to reduce the number of people infected with Covid 19, more and more of us are making changes to our daily routine. The new realities of adapting to new lifestyles and managing the fear of contracting the Covid 19 virus and worry about vulnerable people close to us particularly, are challenging for us all. They can be difficulty particularly for people with mental health conditions. Fortunately, there are tips and advice that may benefit you.
Keep informed: Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as national and local radio stations, and keep up to date with the latest news from the World Health Organization as well as social media.
Have a routine: Keep up with daily routines as far as possible or make new ones.
Keep up with personal hygiene: Eat healthy meals at regular times
Allocate time for work and rest
Make time to do things you enjoy and be happy.
Minimize news feeds: Try to reduce how much you watch, read or listen to news that make you feel anxious and distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
Social Contacts are important: If your movements are restricted, keep in regular contact with people close to you by telephone and online channels.
Alcohol and Drug Use: The harmful use of alcohol is associated with increased risk of infections and worst treatment outcomes. Be aware that alcohol and drugs will prevent you from taking sufficient precautions to protect yourself from infection complaint with hand hygiene.
Social Media: Use your social media accounts to promote positive stories, correct misinformation wherever you see them.
Support Health Workers: Take opportunities online or through your community to thank Nigeria’s health care workers and all those working to respond to Covid 19.
Don’t Discriminate: Fear is a normal reaction in situations of uncertainty. But sometimes fear is expressed in ways which are hurtful to other people thereby feeling discriminated against.
In conclusion, World Mental Health Day may fall on 10th October of every year but also serves as a timely reminder that mental health is not a one-day event. If we learn to do the following:
Educate and communicate, Brew corrections, Nurture mind and body, Learn and grow, Share experiences, Contribute to a cause, Show recognition.
Start conversation, WE will then be taking care of our mental health.
Blessing U. Ina, a mental health advocate, wrote in from the Harris Yenkins Clinic, Calabar, Cross River State.
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