My husband worked specialist in psychiatric pharmacist for over the last 15 years he has continued to enlighten me on the importance, prevalence and widespread impact of mental health. So with the increasing occurrence and media coverage of incidents related to mental health, it is necessary to convey my thoughts and recommendations especially for the school environment.
Food for thought
Ongoing medical research indicate that mental health illnesses result from a variety of causes; drugs, alcohol, hereditary disease, trauma, traumatic events, chemical imbalances and the list goes on. Making this even more complicated are personal/cultural/religious beliefs, superstition and folktales which often have no basis but can have serious influence on how people react to mental health. Research also shows the most commons mental health illnesses are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance misuse.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that mental health is prevalent across the whole world and no race or tribe is immune to mental health illnesses. In Nigeria, we are told that 3.9% (about 4 in every 100 people) of our population have expressed depression with increasing presentation of substance misuse and suicide in adolescent and young adults but not exclusively these groups of our the population.
Changing the paradigm
Similar to physical health challenges (illnesses of the body), mental health challenges refer simply to illnesses of the brain and mind. Both types of challenges affect the human person but with different presentations and impact but paramount is the understanding that they both need to be prevented, supported or treated for better outcomes and healthier living; wellbeing. Interestingly, our physical and mental health often run parallel as a good physical health will reduce mental stress and worries which are contributing factors for deteriorating mental health.
This basic viewpoint – of openness of mind, gives the necessary advantage towards one’s personal wellbeing and puts you in the best position to help others within your sphere of contact; family friends, colleagues and pupils alike.
I have aptly titled this piece Wellbeing as often this is the first barrier to addressing this matter as the terms “Mental Health” leads to raised eyebrows, face frowning, separation and neglect. Unlike physical health, most people are not accommodating to concerns of mental health leading to the stigma which often prevents discussion, support and management.
As we live in a more socially connected world, there is increasing pressure and stress to live, react and behave in certain manners. This added to pre-existing causes highlighted above increase the risks for mental health illnesses.
The demand therefore is for greater awareness, vigilance and support to help ourselves and those in our sphere of contact stay well.
Resilience vs Resistance
The lack of awareness and misguided information from sources such as cultural, religious and media serve to build resistance to which just like in electricity reduces the flow to provide light. Resistance prevents people for talking, makes people hide, leads people to harm and can ultimately result in loss of life.
We need to get the accurate information out, highlighting mental health’s importance to wellbeing. We need to establish and fund people, groups and organisations that promote wellbeing and good mental health. We need mental health and wellbeing CHAMPIONS!
We have to create environments where there can be conversations, safe places for help to be provided and support for people to continue living life to the fullest even after episodes of mental health challenges. We have to support all round WELLNESS!
We need to help people develop themselves to make right, informed choices; diet, exercise, social and lifestyles habits so as to avoid mental illness. Help people to develop personal activities to de-stress, find enjoyment and happiness. Help people to develop RESILIENCE!
Good mental health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all Nigerians; everybody. We all have a role to support one another and the overall wellbeing especially of the children and young people in our population.
We have a responsibility to be less judgmental, obtain and provide the right information, be our brother/sisters keeper in love.
Our government and people in leadership have to prioritise good mental health financially, with policies and manpower to provide adequate facilities and capacity to manage mental health illness.
Our schools have to be the arena for foundational awareness on mental health, destroying prejudice and promoting openness whilst encouraging a community for supporting wellbeing for pupils/students and staff.
Our homes must become more interacting, less electronic for social activities and more accommodating. We need to be more vigilant and caring for one another as this will go a long way to preventing illness, build resilience and promote wellbeing.