Mental illness is a range of illnesses with symptoms that can impact a person’s thinking, perceptions, mood, or behavior.
Someone with a mental illness may find it challenging to manage their relationships, employment, and other obligations. Some examples include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Psychosis, and
- Schizophrenia, to name a few.
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Symptoms of mental illness
Depending on the illness, the environment, and other elements, there can be a wide range of signs and symptoms of mental illness. It can also impact emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.
Examples of symptoms and signs are as follows:
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia, or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Major changes in eating habits
- Sex drive changes
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violence
- Suicidal tendencies
- Feeling sad
- Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Significant tiredness, low energy, or problems sleeping
Common causes of mental illness
While the specific cause of the majority of mental problems is unknown, research suggests that a number of variables like biology, psychological trauma, genetics, and environmental stress may be at play.
Many mental illnesses run in families. This suggests that the disorders, or more accurately, a vulnerability to the disorders, can pass from parents to children through genes.
Sometimes, abnormal functioning of particular brain regions that control emotion, thinking, perception, and behavior can cause mental disorders. Head traumas also can sometimes lead to changes in mood and personality.
Some mental disorders might be triggered by psychological trauma, like severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. This can include important loss, like that of a close family or friend, and neglect.
Stressful or traumatic events can also trigger a disorder in a person with a vulnerability to a mental disorder.
Drugs and alcohol
Excessive intake of drugs and alcohol can have very serious consequences on a person’s mental health. It can also make it harder to recover from mental illness.
Unhealthy habits, like not getting enough sleep or not eating can also cause it.
Constantly putting yourself down or expecting the worst can get you stuck in a cycle of depression or anxiety.
Even if you’re no longer in a stressful environment, things that happened to you as a child can have an impact later in life. Complex PTSD is one particularly common mental health condition among people who grew up in abusive or neglectful environments
Examining Mental Illness in Nigeria
According to Wikipedia, 25 – 30% of Nigerians suffer from mental illness. However, only 10% of these have access to professional help.
In accordance with a 2006 World Health Organization research, the Federal Government allocates 3.3% of its health budget to mental health, with more than 90% of that amount going to mental hospitals. However, 97% of the health budget is allocated to other expenses, with just 3.3% going toward mental health.
This is because many Nigerians do not see mental illness as a serious condition that calls for significant funding. Despite a 1991 policy stating that they should, primary healthcare services do not provide mental health care.
Mental illness and health care facilities in Nigeria
Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million, has fewer than 300 psychiatrists, according to a Guardian article. This is a ratio of about 700,000 of the population per psychiatrist (1:700,000). Most of these psychiatrists are urban-based, which means people in rural areas do not have access to proper treatment.
And with the low level of knowledge and professional support on mental illnesses at primary health care centers, caring for people with mental illness is left to their family members. These family members then resort to traditional treatments to treat their loved ones.
Apart from the shortage of professionals, there are only eight neuropsychiatric hospitals available in the entire country for the professional training of psychiatric doctors, as well as the management of patients with psychiatric disorders.
Attitude towards mental illness in Nigeria
In many Nigerian societies, there is a stigma attached to mental health illnesses, even among professional healthcare workers.
A study carried out by the Journal of Nursing and Healthcare on 248 nurses in different healthcare facilities showed that the majority of the participants had a negative attitude towards people with mental illness. Accordingly, they perceive people with mental illness to be cursed.
This may cause patients to have low self-esteem and lower recovery prospects.
Similarly, a study by psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology shows that Nigerian doctors favor culturally enshrined beliefs about mental illness. The medical curriculum needs a review, and the present anti-stigma campaigns should start with the doctors.
In terms of work opportunities for people with mental illness, a study revealed that ignorance, illiteracy, gender, and religious affiliation affect people’s attitudes toward people with epilepsy and mental illness. Such attitudes are usually negative and stigmatizing.
Knowledge about mental disorders among Nigerians is quite poor. Many Nigerians believe that mental illnesses are a curse. They segregate people dealing with mental illnesses and seek help from traditional medicine.
Mental illness is not a communicable disease. It can be cured with proper care and monitoring. There should be sensitization among citizens and professionals on the importance of protecting patients.
Yes, they require special treatment, but they should not be subjected to shame and ridicule for something that is out of their control.