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Dr. Monica’s Corner: Where are You on the Mental Health Spectrum?

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Monica AlabiLet’s continue with the discussion on mental health – particularly as October welcomes World Mental Health Day. My last post generated a bit of debate {Click here if you missed it} The focus was on keeping our minds as healthy as our bodies.

One in five women and one in eight men will develop a mental health illness in their lifetime. Three out of four suicides are committed by men. It is a major issue, and as I always say, it can no longer be ignored. Mental health illness encompasses a wide range of conditions.

Symptoms can range from mild anxiety, panic attacks to full blown psychotic episodes – which we refer to in Naija as proper ‘were‘. This is very unfortunate, because with some care and medication, the so-called ‘were’ can live their lives as well as possible.

Designing good mental health services is challenging in many parts of the world. Even more so in areas where the cause is believed to be largely spiritual or an ancestral curse.

I was called out in the early hours of the morning to see a young man who was having a crisis. He was threatening to kill himself and also said he was hearing voices telling him to harm other people. He lived alone. He had called the emergency services. The ambulance crew of three (including two men) was already on site and if the patient had stepped outside his flat, the police would have been called too. The task was to assess the amount of danger he was to himself and others and decide whether to take him in involuntarily (section him) or to wait for him to be seen in the morning. The process took several hours and eventually he decided he was going to sleep. The Psychiatric nurse arranged to see him later and he was able to continue living a relatively independent life. What would have happened to this patient where you live?

While this is an extreme example, it is important that we can organise mental health care and match the level of care to severity of need. In Nigeria, there are only eight regional centres nationally which are all run by the government with a small number of NGOs’ contributing.
Most other mental health care is via herbalists and faith healers. They can prove to be an even more useful resource if the government can work closer with them. For example, delivering professional counselling or referring to psychiatrists if needed.

The spend on mental health in Nigeria is small, considering that the prevalence of mental health problems is up to 20%. Procurement of mental health services could also do with some help. Psychiatrists in Nigeria are world class but there are only a few of them  (<200) and  they are in specialist hospitals rather than in the community.

October gives everyone a chance to start to look at Mental Health differently and play your part in improving not just your own mental health but that of others.

There are a few things you can do:

  1. Read the previous article here and assess your own mental health. If you are concerned and feel there is a problem, see your own doctor. You can also contact us here.
  2. Spread the news about mental health and World Mental Health day (10th of October) on all your media.
  3. Look at the policy on mental health where you are or at least at what services are available around you.
  4. Women can join us on our next webinar on mental health here.

Mental health is as important as physical health. Poor mental health is a leading cause of disability worldwide and you can’t tell by just appearance how well or not anyone is. Let’s move to demystify and destigmatize Mental Health.

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