Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire
By Ugonna Orji
Many people all over the world are grappling with mental health issues. The World Health Organisation estimates that 450 million people worldwide have a mental disorder and that 25% of the population will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. According to the Organisation, “Mental Health is a state of well-being in which the 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”.
Mental health is not just about the absence of mental disorders or disabilities, it is not only about avoiding active conditions but also looking after ongoing wellness and happiness.
However, there are several factors that could disrupt this “state of well-being” and lead to mental disorders. Such factors as stress, depression and anxiety are usually the culprits. These could arise from socioeconomic factors wherein long periods of financial constraints, poverty and less than desirable living conditions play major parts in disrupting one’s mental health.
On the social side, a lack of acceptance of an individual by social groups or belonging to an oppressed ethnic group could affect one’s mental health. There are also biological factors where certain genes and gene variants are passed down to a person; genes with links to a mental health disorder such as depression or schizophrenia are usually the commonest. Stress, depression, and anxiety may also develop due to underlying, life changing physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes, and chronic pain. Other common forms of mental disorder include anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, and schizophrenia disorders.
There are some early signs which might indicate that an individual is suffering from a form of mental illness or the other. Such early signs include withdrawing from friends, family and colleagues, avoiding activities that they would normally enjoy, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, feeling hopeless, displaying negative emotions, using mood-altering substances like alcohol and nicotine more frequently; experiencing delusions, hearing voices, thinking of causing physical harm to themselves or others etc.
One step one can take to avoid slipping into, checkmating, and solving mental health disruptions is talking about one’s feelings. Talking about how one feels makes one feel better especially when the listener is supportive. Talking can really be a way to cope with problems.
Also, keeping active can help one avoid or solve mental health issues. Regular exercises have ways of making one feel better, boost self esteem and can help one to concentrate, look and feel better.
Eating well can equally help one to maintain a good mental health. Eating sufficient foods with lots of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, oily fish, dairy products and plenty of water can be helpful. This is so because whatever food is good for the body also positively impacts one’s mental health.
Drinking sensibly rather than heavily is recommended for a balanced mental health. Drinking heavily as a way of dealing with fear, loneliness or similar conditions will only provide temporary relief but will leave one feeling worse after the effect wears off.
Keeping in touch with friends and family members can help one ease the stresses of life and deal with mental health issues. This is because friends and family can help one feel loved and cared for and offer different views to situations of life that can help one see the positive side of things.
Asking for help is another way to deal with mental health issues. No one is a superhuman. There is no shame in asking for help. If things are becoming too overwhelming, one should ask for help. Apart from asking for help from family and friends, one can also join support groups, consult a counsellor etc.
Taking a break is another way to deal with mental health challenges. It could just be a five-minute pause from cleaning the house, a half-hour lunch break from work, or a weekend exploring somewhere new etc. This helps to relax the mind.
Doing something one is good at gives a sense of enjoyment. This helps one dwell on the positives of life as (s)he goes about enjoying himself/herself and relieves stress in the process.
Lastly, dwelling on negative occurrences does not help the cause of mental health. Accept who you are, get a sense of fulfilment by caring for others because in doing so, one usually gets a sense of usefulness and other issues affecting mental health are checked.
There are solutions for those who are already battling with mental health issues. Treatments are available and can be administered in different forms. However, treatments may differ from person to person as what works for one may not work for another person.
Taking therapies is one of several ways to treat mental illness. Such therapies could include cognitive behavioural therapy, exposure therapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy. Psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists and some primary care physicians carry out this type of treatment.
Prescribed medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxioytic drugs can help, too. Even though these cannot cure mental disorders, they help in improving symptoms and patients can resume normal social interactions while they continue to work on their mental health difficulties.
Finally, self-help is key in treating mental health challenges. One struggling with mental health conditions can help him/herself by reducing alcohol intake, exercising, eating balanced diets and engaging in a change of other of their lifestyle to facilitate wellness.
In conclusion, while cases of mental health might persist in society because of the conditions already stated above, it is not a death sentence and cannot only be controlled but also treated. Those undergoing one form of stress, anxiety or depression should be willing to reach out, speak up and seek help. This way, the challenge can be successfully combated