As defined by WHO, mental health is“a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. While mental health disorders are “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterised by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior associated with distress and/or impaired functioning”.
Living in a society where mental disorders are not recognized, living a normal life can be difficult for those who have it. When every mental illness is classified as madness caused by ‘one’s village people’. We need to get rid of this way of thinking and accept that there are other mental disorders asides from the typical ‘madness’. People who live with disorders such as, depression, anxiety, PTSD or even bipolar disorder have to pretend they are okay just to avoid society’s judgement. But pretending that you are okay doesn’t help the situation, one has to own their illness to be able to overcome it, whether it is through medication, therapy or prayer. It doesn’t matter how you do it, the first step is always acceptance.
Mental health disorders are not uncommon. An estimated 20% – 30% of our population suffer from mental health disorders in Nigeria. Sadly, the level of awareness given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is very poor. The low level of public awareness and misconceptions on mental health issues has done nothing to help matters.
According to the 2006 WHO-AIMS report on mental health systems in Nigeria “there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The existing mental health policy document in Nigeria was formulated in 1991. Since its formulation, no revision has taken place and no formal assessment of how much it has been implemented has been conducted……. No desk exists in the ministries at any level for mental health issues and only four percent of government expenditures on health is embarked for mental health”.
There are very few mental health centers and non – governmental organisations involved in mental health awareness. Lack of acknowledgement and general attitude towards mental health disorders does little to help, in fact it makes it worse such that a person suffering from a mental health disorder doesn’t even know they are. Suffering from a mental health disorder doesn’t make the person any less human.
I hope that with time, we all come to accept this illness for what it is and that mental health care becomes a part of the primary health care and not just a side attraction. I hope we understand that no illness is small and mental health illnesses are just as important as any other illness.
By Farida Umar
Industrial chemist in the making
Proud feminist and weirdo
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