According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no single “official” definition of mental health. Mental health is not just a concept that refers to an individual’s psychological, social and emotional wellbeing but also a determinant that affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps in how we handle stress, relate to others and make healthy decisions. Mental health is important at every stage of life; from childhood to adolescence and through adulthood.
Mental health means keeping our mind healthy. People tend to ignore the state of their minds and are more focused on keeping their body healthy. This is more common in Nigeria where mental illnesses are often a taboo-subject and, in some cases, treated as a joke. Yet mental illness is a common, and serious issue, and is increasing rapidly in the nation.
The most common mental illnesses in Nigeria are depression and Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder (PTSD). Depression is characterised by low mood and a loss of interest in activities. It is a common and serious medical illness that affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It is characterised by feeling sad, irritable, and empty. Most times, it ends in the person committing suicide if they do not reach out for help.
Unfortunately, when they reach out for help, they are shamed, neglected and made to think that their situation is not as bad as they are making it to be.
Most Nigerians experience depression at different levels. Due to the economic situation and high rate of unemployment in the country, most youths experience Post-NYSC Depression Syndrome (PNDS) which occurs at the end of the one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme. Youths who are unable to get a job or find their footing in the world, feel alone, and end up feeling insecure and depressed. Towards the end of their service year, those who are unable to secure a job, tend to feel anxious about their future.
They wallow in self-doubt and lose confidence in themselves.
Most new mothers in Nigeria experience postpartum depression, which is mostly caused by the changes to a woman’s body after giving birth. It can lead to serious depression later in life. Unfortunately, almost every person in the society is affected by one form of mental illness or another. Mental illnesses do not refer to brain fag or insanity alone. Many people, particularly youths, cannot even talk to their parents or anyone about their mental struggles because they will be mocked. The solution for many is drug or substance abuse, which can also be detrimental to their physical and mental health.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder characterised by the failure to recover from witnessing a terrifying experience. It may last for months or years, with flashbacks of the memories of the trauma accompanied with intense emotional and physical reactions. Instances are losing a parent at a young age, growing up with an abusive parent or getting sexually abused as a young child. More than 1.5million cases of PTSD are recorded in Nigeria every year.
The most common causes of the mental illnesses in Nigeria mentioned above are stress, either in the workplace or school; genetic factors; child abuse or traumatic experiences; social disadvantage; poor physical appearance (disabilities); poor physical health condition; biochemical imbalances; the immediate family structure and environment; pressure from family, and fear of failure.
To help eradicate or at least solve the problem of mental illnesses in Nigeria, the following measures can be taken: in schools, there should be a full-fledged guidance counselor, who can help children talk about how they feel and help them to relieve the pressure and stress they feel from either their family or academic work.
In the case of marital issues, instead of advising couples to see a pastor or any other cleric to pray their way out of their problems, which is the normal response, they should instead meet a marriage counselor to work out the issues going on in their family, as whatever is going on in the home can also affect the mental health of the children in the family.
The cost of seeing a therapist in Nigeria is quite high and above the budget of many families. For example, the minimum wage is 30,000 naira and this can barely cover the basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing) of most families, hence the issue of seeing a therapist is a challenge. To solve this, there can be a provision for sponsored therapists, who attend to this category of people at subsidised rate.
To cope with the stress and pressure in the society, young people can participate in productive tasks and engage in community activities where they can interact with their peers, exchange ideas and share experiences. They can also go on walks and jogs often. As much as these exercises help the body, they also help the mind.
Mental health awareness should be done in schools and public institutions across the country to encourage people to speak up and seek help when faced with one mental issue or another. This will also encourage parents and guardians to create an enabling environment for their wards to talk to them about their issues.
Mental health is important because as humans we need to be fit emotionally and mentally to be truly alive and easily manage tasks and difficult situations. If a person is mentally unstable, it can affect their physical health, as the mind also helps in the coordination of the body functions and one’s social life. We can fall ill mentally the way we fall ill physically.
The Nigeria we want is a Nigeria where we are allowed to speak out on how we feel about our mental health and to get the necessary help; a Nigeria where the mental health of the average youth is prioritised, as we are the leaders of tomorrow; a Nigeria where we are not ashamed to address our mental struggles but can reach out for help and get it.
A healthy mind leads to a healthy body. A healthy youth population will promote the nation’s growth.
By Otene-Okonkwo Isioma Benedette