In Nigeria, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of our population is believed to suffer from mental health related disorders. In a recent report, it was revealed that about seven million Nigerians are currently suffering from mental health problems associated with stress and depression. This is a very significant number considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of about 180 million. Also, Nigerians have been shaken in recent months by news of tragedies caused by individuals suffering from unrelated mental illnesses.
Mental health related issues are not uncommon, and the global burden of mental health disorders is projected to reach 15% by the year 2020. By this time, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders, will disable more people.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
A recent report states that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England for example, 1 in every 6 persons reports experiencing a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression in any given week.
Medical experts have emphasised that creating awareness is essential; members of the public need to get appropriate information and be aware of what steps to take on detection of symptoms of mental ill health early enough. In the US for instance, the film, Silver Linings Playbook, was nominated for the Academy Awards Best Picture along with several other individual awards. At least part of the reason that the movie was so well received is because it talked about mental health issues in a mainstream format.
Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health related issues in Nigeria is not at its best. There is still a stigma attached to mental or emotional health issues. The level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish. Such worries about things like money, jobs among other benefits can make it harder for people to cope emotionally.
In Nigeria, medical experts have proposed that a national strategy to address mental health problems by the government at all levels is needed – one which should lay emphasis on prevention and improving the health status of all.
In an interview with PharmaTimes, Dr. Leonard Okonkwo, a Medical Psychologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, shared his views on the issue: “Mental illness is definitely on the increase in Nigeria. This is due to rapid urbanisation and great influx to urban areas, which has increased overcrowding and stress. Socio-economic status and high poverty level has also contributed in the ever increasing rate of mental illness.”
Dr, Okonkwo while speaking on how Nigerians can cope with mental related illness explained that it starts with getting awareness on the illness and knowing what the signs and symptoms are. He however, stated that while there are trained professionals to treat mental health related issues in the country, early detection will improve recovery.
Meanwhile, he urged members of the public not to stigmatise people suffering from mental health related illness. According to him “Mental illness is just like any other illness. People should avoid undue and excessive stress. Stress is everywhere. Sub states of stress like frustration, conflicts, pressures and life events should be recognised early and handled appropriately.”
Studies have revealed that mental health is important at every stage of life – from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Consequently, medical experts say that being able to see things from a rational point of view also helps people to cope with cases relating to mental illnesses. Other ways to cope include breathing exercises and relaxation therapy. While early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery, patients should also adhere strictly to their treatment, drugs, psychotherapy among others.