Mental illness is not a subject matter most people are comfortable discussing. Many with mental health challenges (if not extreme and out in the open) try to keep it a secret because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Letting others know you have a mental problem often evokes feelings of shame, fear and isolation. Most relatives or family members do their best to keep any issue of mental ill health in their family from the public space.

People with mental health issues may view mental illness as a personal weakness that calls into question their ability to cope with life issues and is an indication that there is something “very wrong with them.” But mental illness can affect anyone. According to celebrity Nigerian psychiatrist Dr. Maymunah Yusufu Kadiri (a speaker at the 2017 and 2018 Pride Women Conference), one in five adults in Nigeria experience mental illness of some type/form in a given year.

People with mental health challenges should not be left to suffer in silence. A person’s poor state of mental health can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. Encouraging open discussions about mental health issues can open the door to healing and overall mental well-being.

“Mental illnesses refer collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders—health conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” – American Psychiatric Association (APA)

“Mental health, is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” – World Health Organization (WHO).

The current economic and security situation in Nigeria is putting a lot of strain on so many individuals, deteriorating the mental health of citizens so much so that cases of suicides are on the rise. Even though, as Nigerians, we pride ourselves on our resilience, the prevalent situation is leading to serious psychological distress, high rates of depression, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), suicide, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), among other mental illnesses. Cases of drugs abuse in our society are also very much on the rise. Drugs can cause an abuser to experience one or more symptoms of some form of mental illness, and mental illnesses can lead to drug abuse.

Mental health resilience invites a willingness to “try on” new ways to survive hardships and bounce back from adversity. It invites letting go of the stigma of mental illness and forging a new relationship with our minds, bodies and spirits.

Mental health challenges can be tackled from various angles:

  • We should try to get educated about mental illness. The internet is a very good resource to get information on mental health issues. You can get the requisite information to help recognize the signs of mental illness. We should not be ashamed to confide in trusted loved ones or friends about any mental health issues we may be facing. As a society we should also talk openly about our experiences and/or those of family members/friends who suffer with mental illness so that we begin to address the stigma associated with mental illness and deal with it.
  • As individuals we should evaluate our attitudes and beliefs about mental illness. Mental illness is not “feeling out of sorts” or something to snap out of. Mental illness is a health issue like heart disease or diabetes and should be addressed as such by consulting with the right professionals.
  • We have so many faith-based organisations in the country. These organisations due to their reach in society can play a crucial role in educating their congregations about mental health issues and create the necessary awareness that encourages people to be open about mental health challenges and discourage the stigma associated with mental health. These organisations should also be a bastion for promoting the need for people with mental health challenges to seek both professional help along with their spiritual care.
  • It is recommend that those with mental health issues seek treatment directly from a mental health professional, however one can begin the process of getting professional care by first consulting with your general practitioner.
  • Health care costs money, however, one should not focus on this aspect when seeking help. Contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government primary health care centre to find out how to go about getting treatment.

Mental health is a prerequisite for our well-being. Any part of the body can get sick. And the logical step when one is ill is to seek medical attention. Getting treatment for mental health issues can help you live a fulfilled life, and also enable you to be beneficial to your family and your community at large.

Our society is being impacted negatively by the stigma and silence associated with mental health. The 2019 Pride Women Conference will continue to address mental health issues as it has done from inception in a bid to tackle the stigma and silence associated with mental illness and promote the importance of mental health to emotional well-being.  Dr. Timi Oyebode will be speaking on “Breaking Through Trauma, Abuse and Addition” at the conference in this regard.

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