…how did they get it wrong?
Adolescence and the early years of adulthood can be quite challenging. For many Nigerians, it can be stressful. According to experts, this can lead to serious mental illness if not controlled. Nigeria just joined the rest of the world to mark the 2018 World Mental Health Day held under the theme: ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’.
It was an occasion to see how good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults. Studies have also substantiated the fact that good mental health begins from childhood while half of all mental health conditions in adulthood are said to begin by age 14, and three quarters by 24.
The World Health Organization, WHO, in a report, said that, worldwide, 10-20 per cent of children and adolescents experience a mental disorder.
Back home, statistics show that 12 per cent of adult Nigerians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Sadly, experts say the country is currently experiencing an upsurge in a number of children and adolescent coming down with mental health disorders. But the question is, how did these Nigerians get it wrong? Sunday Vanguard X-rays the causes and the importance of mental health among young Nigerians in a challenging world.
How it starts
Taju Adegbolu, 27, was on top of his class while in the university. He was the envy of his classmates. Every student wanted to be his friend. To everybody’s admiration, Taju graduated with first class.
Full of hope, Taju was praying to get a job immediately after he graduated to help his widowed mother to take care of his siblings. But five years down the line, he is yet to secure a job.
He then sought refuge in a small beer parlour where he was introduced to substance abuse to ease-off his woes.
Today, the young and once vibrant graduate is gradually losing his dreams for no fault of his, no thanks to the unemployment and economic hardship in the country.
Taju is not alone. Dayo Salako is currently battling serious mental health issues. He has already been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
His woes began when he failed to secure admission into the university. Apparently, for lack of good counseling, he succumbed to depression.
“At first, I never thought it was a problem until I found myself always having feelings of sadness. I lost interest in so many things. It was so bad that l became afraid of myself. I wept in my darkest moment,” he told Sunday Vanguard.
“To be quite honest, probably for a long time I didn’t want to help myself. But I am going through treatment today.”
Taju and Dayo are far from being alone. According to statistics from the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba (FNPHY), there is an alarming increase in the number of young Nigerians with mental illness.
Currently, the centre sees between 150 and 200 children and adolescents with mental health disorders and 25 new cases weekly. Findings show that most of the patients were drug and substance abusers.
Findings also show that mental disorders are wreaking havoc among young people.
Factors that predispose them include drug and substance addiction, social media and internet addiction, unemployment, online technology pressures and economic hardship.
Long term consequences
According to WHO, mental disorders are the single-most common cause of disability in young people. Sadly, most cases go undetected and untreated, with serious long-term consequences for mental health.
Research shows that 75 per cent of young people with mental health problems are not receiving treatment until symptoms reach crisis level and 75 per cent of mental illness start before a child reaches his 18th birthday.
Unfortunately, many of these young people are prone to suicide. A WHO report shows that 800,000 people die every year due to suicide and it is the second leading cause of death among youths within the age of 15-29 years. At FNPHY alone, more Nigerian children and adolescents are being admitted for substance abuse at its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Centre in Oshodi, Lagos.
Throwing light on the burden of mental illness among adolescents, the FNPHY Medical Director, Dr Oluwayemi Ogun, said every week, between 150 and 200, children and adolescents with mental illnesses are seen at the centre while between 20 and 25 new cases are diagnosed. In the case of adults, the hospitals attend to between 800 and 1,000 weekly while emergency cases seen weekly in the facility range between 30 and 35 patients.
Reason for increase
According to Ogun, the period of the adolescent was a time of life when many changes occur. For so many young people, it is an exciting time while there may be times of stress and apprehension. Several studies also show that the main cause of depression in Nigeria, especially in youths, is substance abuse. Other causes include economic hardship and even heartbreak.
Ogun, who is also the founding Chief Consultant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Centre at FNPHY, traced the increasing burden to what she described as ‘expanding use’ of online technology with its varied benefits that had undoubtedly brought additional pressures with the use of internet both night and day.
“This has led to new names in addiction psychiatry like compulsive internet use, (CIU), internet addiction disorder and problematic internet use or disorder. The most commonly identified categories of internet addiction include gaming, social networking, email, blogging, online shopping and inappropriate internet and pornography use”, she said.
“The obvious thing is that the excessive computer use interferes with our daily life.”
Pointing out that poverty and unemployment have been linked to the rising cases of mental illness, she said, in Nigeria, young people are faced with rising poverty levels and unemployment adding that the rural-urban migration has turned many into destitution in major cities with the attendant mental and physical health challenges.
“Again, high rate of poverty has led to broken homes with negative consequences on the mental health of young people. Incidences of drug abuse have never been as high as the pandemic present state. With the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and farmer/herdsmen clashes, young people living in these situations are highly vulnerable to mental illness; hence we are faced with many woes of suicide around us.”
The Medical Director stressed the need for Nigerians to protect the young people’s health as well as the economy and society.
Ogun, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard during the 2018 World Mental Health Day organized by the hospital, said: “In the last two months, we have witnessed an increase in the number of children that need admission for substance abuse disorders. In a week, at least we see from 150 to 200, but the number of new patients (youths) that are coming for the first time range between 20 and 25. For adults, weekly, the number ranges between 800 and 1,000 while adult emergency cases weekly in the facility range between 30 and 35 patients. We run clinics every day except on Wednesdays.
“We have increase in the attendance of youths. We have a unit that has been set up since 1999 to take care of the mental health of children and adolescents. In the last two months, we have noticed an increase in the number of youths that are admitted because of substance abuse”.
Corroborating her views, a Consultant Psychiatrist, FNPHY, Dr Dapo Adegbaju, who stated that mental illness was on the rise in Nigeria, said the environment is the main factor fuelling mental illness among Nigerians.
“People are losing their jobs, their sources of livelihood. And you know a person who is not gainfully employed is likely to find his way into drug abuse and this leads to mental challenges”, he said
Adegbaju, who explained that mental illness can also be caused by several factors, including genetic and pycho-social problems such as drug abuse, and loss of job or unemployment, broken marriages as a result of accident, identified symptoms of mental illness in young people to include hallucination, illusions and having troubles with relationships with other people in the society.
According to Adegbaju, to prevent mental illness, people should avoid things that can cause trauma to the head, stress and ensure that they sleep very well.
“Sleep is an important factor in mental illness. Sleep is important in ensuring good health and that is why we have day and night created but, you know, because of the environment we are in, the type of job we do, we might not be getting enough rest. That is why if you find people doing night shift, they are usually given some days off, it is to reset their sleep-wake pattern so that it doesn’t get destructed.
“An adult needs to have 6 to 8 hours of sleep every day, uninterrupted sleep. That is how a person would be refreshed but anything less than that is a recipe for trouble but if it is occasional, it is fine but if it becomes constant, it becomes a problem”.
On the way out, Adegbaju stressed the need for government to put the economy on track, stating that “once the economy picks up, there will be more jobs for people to do, people will be employed, the trend of losing jobs and finding oneself unemployed is avoided, people will be able to cater for their children and this has an indirect way of improving everybody’s mental health”.
He urged parents to be friends to their children as that would help them express themselves on issues bothering them. “As a responsible adult, when a child complains about being bullied, you should go to the school and find out if it is really taking place and do something about it”, he said.
Adegabju urged Nigerians to take care of their mental health as WHO described health as a complete state of physical and mental, and not just the absence of diseases.
However, health watchers are worried that, as the country battles such rise, treatment of mental illness remains a challenge as there is a dearth of professionals and equipment to handle the growing burden. Again, several barriers abound in the management of individual treatments such as lack of understanding of the root causes of mental illness, lack of financial support, lack of social support and the fear of stigmatization.
Observers are of the opinion that families and government should invest in early treatment of mental problems as that can lead to a decrease in emotional and behavioral problems, functional impairment and contact with all forms of law enforcement. It can also lead to improvements in social and behavioral adjustment, learning outcomes and school performance.