The conceptions & misconceptions of mental health

Mental health in Nigeria is an issue that has not been taken seriously. It is no wonder there is now widespread insanity in the country. The social perception and attitude of mental health didn’t just start in recent times. Those who have been before us are to be blamed. The misconceptions started long before us.

It is important to refer back to the past because that’s the only way we can tackle these misconceptions. And truly understand where to go from here. Historically speaking, it was believed that mental illness was as a consequence or outcome of our actions. Such that some sort of supernatural force in a rage “strikes” down its victim. Some other people believed that mentally ill people were possessed by witchcraft. And evil spirits and that God punishes sins by sending down madness to the sinner.

As a result of what they believed mental illness to be, the victims were not seen as sick people but as some form of abomination. Hence, they were burned, hanged, mutilated, abandoned and even restrained with chains. All in the bid to “save their souls”. And bring them “redemption” to their families and tame the iniquities causing mental illnesses within the families. I don’t know if you really understand what this means because if you don’t I’ll explain further.

These people are actually sick and need attention and treatment. But because they were misunderstood, they were treated wrongly and humiliated for something that wasn’t exactly a fault of theirs. If you’re familiar with the feeling that comes with being misunderstood, then you can partially relate to how this is.

The beliefs on the aetiology of mental illness are the reasons why third world countries especially Nigeria has that attitude. And statistically shown that it has an impact on the acceptance of the mentally ill. Well, to be fair, the mentally ill are no longer treated with the same extremities as that of the past. Today, they are referred to as dangerous, unstable, suspicious, unreliable, irresponsible and even homicidal. These labels on the mental behaviour of the mentally ill have aggravated and provoked further prejudices on people with mental illnesses.

The excuse for that hostile treatment in the past will be that they didn’t know what it was. Well, now we do, and since we know, then we should be better. I think one of the main issues in Nigeria is the fact that we seem to have misplaced priorities in the sense that our attention is not focused on the most important things that we ought to tackle first.

Mental health disorders are estimated to be about 15% of the world’s issues by 2020. And more of that number will obviously come from this side of the world if we do not do something about it now because 2020 is actually closer than we think. It was being estimated statistically that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders will disable more people than complications arising from AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and war combined. I honestly don’t know about you but this estimation worries me especially as an advocate of mental health and it should trigger something in you. It poses serious questions as to why mental health disorders are not given much more attention than it currently receives.

In Nigeria, an estimated 20-30% of our population is believed to suffer from mental disorders. It is such a shame that in Nigeria, the attention given to mental health disorders is at best, transient; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconception about mental health have continued to flourish.

The 2006 WHO-AIMS report on the mental health system in Nigeria made some revelations it reports that “there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The existing Mental Health Policy document in Nigeria was formulated in 1991. Since it’s formulation, no revision has taken place and no formal assessment of how much it has been implemented has been conducted. No desk exists in the ministries at any level for mental health issues and our only 4% of government expenditures on health is earmarked for mental health.

It also unravelled other issues related to mental health. These include unavailability of essential medicines at health centres, unavailability of physicians to run primary health care centres and lack of restrictions to the prescription of psychotropic medications. It also identified that there are only a few non-governmental organizations involved in individual assistance activities such as therapy, housing and support groups.

Having spent the last hour to write about mental health, I’m certain you already know the state of things. That we ought to wake up and do the needful. The greatest challenge from my research so far is that most people are not aware that mental health disorders take up a broad spectrum. We have depression, phobias and a whole list of others. They can be as minimal as adjustment issues and as severe as psychosis such as schizophrenia. In the coming weeks, I’ll take my time and elaborate on the different disorders especially the ones that are now becoming prominent in terms of people suffering from it.

Whichever it is, the first step to solving a problem is to admit in the first place that there is a problem. Now that we have successfully seen that not only are we not handling mental health as important as we should but also that not enough people know the importance of mental health. The mind is the most powerful tool in the world. All inventions of time started from the mind. Everything begins from the mind as the same focus we place on our bodies should be the same focus that we give our minds. Being a healthy person goes beyond having checkups to ensure your body is fine. When we understand that we should care about our minds, then we’re taking a step in the right direction.

When a person has been diagnosed with having a mental disorder, it’s the same thing as saying someone has cancer or diabetes. The person no longer has the ability to help himself. Regardless of how inconsequential that may appear, the person needs help. I’m actually glad that with the help of social media, these issues have begun to come to light. A few people have started raising awareness about different disorders. We can never do enough because we have to try to reach all people.

The bottom line is that we have to change our attitude towards mental disorders and patients suffering from them. If perhaps you have a thing or two to share, it could be a contribution or a different perspective, the comment section is open.