Reducing mental illness

Medical Director, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos Dr. Oluwayemi Ogun

Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos Dr. Oluwayemi Ogun recently expressed concern over the rising cases of mental health problems among youths in Nigeria. She said 1 in 5 youths have mental health issues just as 1 in 4 adults would experience mental illness at a point in their lives. Dr. Ogun spoke on Wednesday last week during a symposium to mark the 2018 World Mental Health Day with the theme ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.’

She said young people between the ages of 14 and 35 have challenges with anxiety and depression; adding that most youth with anxiety would ordinarily not go to hospital for treatment. According to him, 75 percent of mental illnesses start before a child reaches 18 while 50 percent of mental health problems in adult life (excluding dementia) start before the age of 14. She further observed that many young people do not access treatment until symptoms reach crisis point. Dr. Ogun explained that many people with mental illness are isolated or are uncertain as regards where they can access treatment, thus relying on the informal support of family, friends or colleagues who may advise wrongly on the mode of treatment to be accessed.

Also speaking at a separate press conference in Abeokuta to mark the World Mental Health Day, Provost and Chief Medical Director of Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta Dr. Timothy Adewale identified substance abuse among adolescents as a major cause of mental illness, saying it could lead to unsafe sex, reckless driving and crimes. Adewale said depression is the third leading cause of the disease among adolescents. Depression covers a wide range of conditions typically defined by a persistent bad mood and lack of interest in pursuing daily life.

Mental illness is defined as ‘mental health disorder characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.’ Possible causes of mental disorder are complex and varied, depending on the particular disorder and the individual involved. A variety of biological, psychological and environmental factors can contribute to the development or progression of mental disorder. Psychiatrists maintain that most mental disorders are a result of combination of several factors rather than a single factor.


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Environmental causes of mental illness are stressors that individuals come across in everyday life. They include but are not limited to dysfunctional home life, poor relationship with others, stress, substance abuse, inability to meet social expectations, poverty, debts or bankruptcy, significant trauma as an adult such as military combat, shock from an accident or violence, neglect, social isolation, loneliness, discrimination, death of a close relation, divorce, homelessness or poor housing, failure in an examination, unemployment or sack from a job.

Emotional symptoms of mental health disorders include changes in mood, erratic thinking, chronic anxiety, exaggerated sense of self-worth and impulsive actions. According to health experts, mental health problems do not cause physical symptoms in and of themselves. However, depression can indirectly cause weight loss and fatigue. While alienation from peers, anger, sadness, fears and feelings of helplessness are some short-term effects of mental disorders, the illness in the long-term can drive a person to commit suicide.

To reduce high incidence of mental illness among Nigerians especially youth, there is need for government to invest in the social health of its citizens. Beginning with extensive public education on the need for citizens to regularly visit healthcare facilities when they have problems disturbing them, government is also urged to create counseling centers or units in all public health facilities in the country including those located in rural communities.

States and local governments are encouraged to revive social welfare offices that have become shadows of their former selves. Social welfare officers can help individuals with symptoms of mental disorder to access medical attention and treatment. Good governance, as a preventive strategy, would forestall, or at least minimize exposure of Nigerians to most of the environmental risk factors associated with mental disorders.


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