UNDERSTANDING MENTAL HEALTH & MENTAL ILLNESS
Mental health is an integral part of our health and well-being. Yet, it’s being neglected. According to WHO, 1 in 4 people worldwide will suffer from mental health disorders at least once in their lifetime. When you consider the world’s population, that’s a staggering statistic. In Nigeria, where mental disorder is still largely misunderstood, the situation is just as alarming.
Studies have shown that the prevalence of mental disorders amongst young people in the country is increasing, with depression being the most common. Specifically, about 25 percent of young adults are depressed in the country, 26.2 percent of adults are depressed, while 17 percent of persons in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are depressed. This means that people are struggling with mental health almost everywhere without knowing.
What exactly is Mental Illness?
Mental illness – or mental disorder – is an illness of the brain that affects our thinking, behavior, energy, or emotion. This usually makes it difficult to cope with the standard demands of life.
That is why Howie Mandel, Canadian Comedian & Television Personality argued that “there isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with relationships. Having OCD is not an embarrassment anymore – for me. Just know that there is help and your life could be better if you go out and seek the help.”
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing; how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle the stress of daily life, impacts our relationships and our choices as individuals, from childhood through to adulthood.
What are the Causes of Mental Illness?
Many factors contribute to mental health problems, some of which may include:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry.
- Environmental Exposures to some stressors such as toxins, drugs, and alcohol before birth
- Experiences, such as trauma or abuse.
- Family history of mental health problems
What are the Types of Mental Disorders?
Common Mental disorders include:
- Mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders such as phobias, panic disorder
- Impulse control disorders including kleptomania, pyromania, narcissism, paranoia, dependent.
- Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa
- Psychotic Disorders like schizophrenia
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, usually experienced by people who have gone through a major traumatic experience or abuse of some form.
What are Those Early Signs to Look Out for?
Mental illness, unlike physical illness, isn’t easily noticeable, so oftentimes isn’t spotted until it is too late. Signs and symptoms vary, depending on the type of disorder, circumstances among other factors.
Here are some tell-tale signs that can alert us to the presence of mental disorders in ourselves or loved ones.
- Feeling of numbness or unexplainable lack of interest in anything
- Social withdrawal and the increased need to be alone
- Feeling usually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
- Having low or no energy
- Sleep disturbances; either increased or decreased sleep levels
- Change in eating patterns.
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Vague aches and pains in the body
- Thinking of harming yourself or others.
What You Can Do to Maintain a Positive Mental Health?
- Connect with understanding people. Try not to struggle through it alone
- Get physically active
- Get enough sleep/rest
- Find new hobbies
- Identify your triggers and avoid them
- Set boundaries and be unapologetic about it
- Get professional help if you need it.
Helping Loved Ones Through Mental Illness
- Show concerned individuals respect and acceptance. Try to separate the individual from their mental illness.
- Provide them with an open and non-judgmental space to share their feelings.
- Avoid second-guessing their feelings. Ask open-ended questions to get them to share what they feel with you as much as possible.
- Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
- Be an advocate of mental health in your circle of influence to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in our community.
- Learn more about mental health to provide more helpful support to those who need it.