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Our Attitudes Towards Mental Health Comes From Fear, Misinformation, Ignorance And Cultural Myths‎ – Psychotherapist

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Mrs Gloria Ogunbadejo is a qualified Psychotherapist and Mental Health Counselling Specialist. Her area of expertise is working with victims of trauma, in particular gender violence. She is a life Coach and also a columnist. In this interview with KUNLE OLASANMI, she speaks on the causes of trauma, mental illness‎ and how they can be tackled

As a Psychotherapist, could you educate the public on typical health and mental health and why they also have to take their mental health seriously?

The issue of Mental Health and how people think of it in our society and most African societies is a complex one. Most of the attitudes towards it comes from fear, misinformation, ignorance and cultural or traditional myths. All these reasons have created a very unhealthy and even dangerous climate that is resulting in many people suffering from deteriorating mental health or developing mental healthy difficulties.

One of my favourite mantras is that you don’t have to be mad to suffer from mental health problems. To put it into perspective, if you think of your physical health or well being and you have an understanding of the need to look after you body, eat right, engage in some form of exercise and try to maintain as low a stress level as possible in order to avoid illnesses that might cause long term physical problems; then you can transfer that understanding to you mind which also need to looked after in order to remain healthy and not fall prey to illnesses of the mind ( emotional and psychological). It’s nothing to feel fearful about, but something necessary to be aware of.

In your view, what could lead to mental illness?

The reasons for developing mental illness are wide ranging and complex. This is because every individual is different in their constitution and capacity to manage stress. What can overwhelm one person and lead to their developing psychological problems may not affect someone else in the same way. The type of family support you have can also alleviate your symptoms and forestall the development of any mental health problems. There are also hereditary or genetic predispositions to mental health difficulties. This does not mean it is inevitable you will have problems just because a family member has been through mental health problems; it just means you have to have good self awareness and understand what your own triggers might be. There is also a physiological, biological aspect which means you might have some chemical imbalances naturally which can be managed, even corrected by medication.

Mental health problems are on a continuum, we are all on this scale. Our mental health can swing from one end to the other and anywhere along the scale depending on what is going on in our lives. There are significant events or stresses in our lives that could bring on problems like depression or other psychological problems like anxieties. Things like loss, bereavement and grief, sustained exposure to domestic violence, cultural pressures such as inability to bear children and many other harmful traditional practices. Things like child brides (child sexual abuse), attitudes towards widows, FGM, and many others.

What do you think should be done to Libya returnees and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) in the north-east who may have passed through one trauma or the other during their ordeal to forget the pain of the past and start a new life?

This is a huge area that deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People who have been kidnapped, people who have come from war, and Refugees all tend to be within the group of people who suffer from PTSD. This is something that also affects people who have been in the midst of terrorist attacks and those who may have survived terrible car accidents, something that is quite common in Nigeria. People who have been the victims of any form of severe violence including sexual violence may all potentially suffer from PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very debilitating condition as it comes with a wide range of presentations. These include the following:

* Intrusive thoughts, in which people re- live the traumatic events and have recurring thoughts without being able to control the thoughts. This can be very frightening as it can occur at any time without any warning.

* Poor sleeping habits, sleeping too much or too little. Waking up very early in the morning or several times during the night and unable to go back to sleep.

* Eating problems, eating too much or too little. Problems with weight management

* Some people may resort to abusing alcohol and drugs to deal with the effects of the trauma

* Family may hugely be negatively affected. Many sufferers may develop serious anger problems which could ultimately lead to domestic violence

*They may develop serious problems with trusting people and intimacy problem

* There have been many sufferers who have resorted to suicide as they are unable to live with the various problems they undergo

* There are also many other forms of self harm that sufferers resort to in an attempt to cope with the effects of the trauma on them.

The treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is varied according to the level of trauma experienced and the age of the person affected. The younger a person is the more affected they will be and need very specialised and age appropriate care. Also women require some aspects of gender sensitive care. However generally speaking the most important thing is for the sufferers to have their experiences acknowledged and validate. In other words t is vital they have a chance to have their stories and experiences listened to and for them to be believed. This is where counselling and Psychotherapy which are listening therapies can be very useful. These particular therapies serve as a form of witnessing to what they have been through in a safe environment. For some a few sessions of intense therapy can be enough to alleviate the worse of the symptoms. Then they can be given the right coping tools to manage some of the symptoms as and when they arise. Fir others they may need medication in addition to therapy. In all cases family support is paramount to aid in their recovery. Family members play a very important role and need to educate themselves about what their loved one is going through. Rather than rushing to an herbalist or folding their arms and waiting on God to solve the problem, they should talk to their loved one and ask them what they are experiencing. They should avoid being judgemental and try to show empathy, understanding and patience.

Domestic violence is another huge area that as a society we have looked away and treated with great neglect. It has now become so problematic to a point of near epidemic proportions. It is a sad situation that it is only when the tables are turning and men have begun to be on the receiving end of domestic violence that it actually beginning to gain some attraction and getting front centre attention in the media. No one should have to go through domestic violence, women or men. While the reasons for it may differ as far as gender is concerned, the effects might be similar for the most part. It is important to be very clear that domestic violence is very damaging to all members of the family but the most vulnerable in all of it are the children who did not ask to be brought into the world and are totally helpless. It creates a distorted and unhealthy future for them. It normalises the act of violence and many grow up to become abusers or to accept being abused.

On the man’s part abuse is usually about control and power! On the woman’s part which may or may not have anything to do with mental health. It could have to do with how he was raised and socialised into viewing women and his sense of entitlement as a man. It may have to do with the family environment in which he was raised. He might have seen his mother or the women around him being abused and adopted the same as an adult. Children are like sponges. They store up things especially when they don’t have the maturity r capacity to understand it and they just replicate it later on. He may have anger issues which would come under emotional or psychological problems.

Women who are the abusers on the other hand tend to have clear and defined mental health problems. Many women might have been on the receiving end of domestic violence themselves and eventually lash out resulting in them perpetrating extreme violence on their husband; sometimes with fatal consequences.

Also an area that is grossly overlooked and not understood is the effects of Post Natal Depression. This is a serious condition that many women experience right after child birth and can continue for months. The effects can be devastating sometimes resulting in tragedy with the woman killing her spouse and sometimes the child too. There might be a hormonal and chemical imbalance that happens during her pregnancy and does not correct itself on childbirth leading to depression, which if not identified and treated can be a disaster for the whole family.

What are some of the early signs to notice in an abusive partner to be able to call for help early enough?

For a woman in an abusive relationship there are some clear signs but the woman may be in denial or choose not to admit to it for fear of losing her marriage, fear of being on her own, economic considerations, family pressures, societal and cultural expectations, and self blame The most obvious signs are frequent physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse.

This may be in the form of denigrating words, abusive words, belittling the woman privately and publicly, withholding financial support, withholding spousal intimacy, threatening to take the children from the woman, dictating what the woman wears, where she goes keeping her from her family and friends and many other actions. It doesn’t have to be all the above but if a husband is doing some of these things on a consistent basis, it is important to be aware and maybe talk to someone you trust. No should feel they have to remain in an abusive relationship. I there is ever any physical violence, this has to be nipped in the bud right away before it escalates and could result in death or disability.

Men find it a lot harder to admit to being physically abused by their wives due to the shame and stigma. This is the same thing in the western world, however it is important that they let someone know before it escalates or results in death as has been the case recently in the media.


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