• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Mental illness as a time bomb


The World Mental Health Day is set aside every 10th of October, by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to raise awareness of mental health issues and mobilize efforts in its support. The Federation for Mental Health, founded in 1948, to prevent emotional and mental health disorders and help those who do suffer from them, is responsible for the organisation of the annual World Mental Health Day. The day is meant to create an avenue for all stakeholders on mental health issues to freely discuss and share experiences about their job. This is quite important in view of a recent research which reveals that about 240 million people across the world experience depression and other symptoms of mental illness during their lifetime. Thus, if not properly addressed, mental illness could as well turn out to be a time bomb waiting to explode in an already troubled world.

The Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, depicts mental illness as medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.  Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing.

Mental illnesses cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence. This illness falls along a continuum of severity. According to a WHO data, four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.

Mental illness usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.  The consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering. It could lead to unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 150 billion dollars each year in the United States. Approximately 25 percent of people in the UK have a mental health problem during their lives. Equally, in the UK, Canada, the USA and much of the developed world, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability among people aged 15 to 44. The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

The causes of mental illness are complex and vary depending on the particular disorder and individuals. Genetics, early development, drugs, a loss of family member, disease or injury, neurocognitive and psychological mechanisms, and life experiences, society and culture, can all contribute to the development or progression of different mental disorders in people. The most common, view, however, is that mental disorder tend to result from genetic vulnerabilities and environmental stressors combining to cause patterns of dysfunction or trigger disorder. Signs of mental health condition include erratic or changed behaviour, depression, loneliness, desperation among others.

No matter how seemingly the effects of mental health issues are, whether it is depression, epilepsy, dementia alcohol dependence or death, they can be managed effectively with the affected individual living a reasonably normal life. Not managing mental health in the workplace has a huge impact on individuals and is equally bad for business too, with an estimated annual cost to employers of over 25 billion pounds. Recent survey indicates 40 per cent of employers view workers with mental health conditions as a significant risk while 42 percent of employers are still underestimating the relevance of mental health in their workplace. Given the negative perception from employers, many applicants may feel that it is in their best interest not to disclose their mental conditions.  Today, 73 percent of work places across the globe still have no formal mental health policy.

Schizophrenia, which affects about 26 million people in the world, is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. Though it is a mental condition that can be treated, more than 50 percent of people with schizophrenia cannot access adequate treatment. Schizophrenia is particularly considered a dangerous mental state because it affects the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. Some of the major features of early Schizophrenia include insomnia (sleep disturbance), unusual behaviour, incoherent speech, persistent feelings of unreality and appetite disorder. Schizophrenia can occur in anyone but it’s a treatable disorder. Long term medication may be necessary for some people but talking therapies and self-help groups can also be effective.

In Lagos, an average of 14.1 percent of the total population suffers from one mental case or the other. It was this realisation that, perhaps, made the state government to adopt a policy that aims to respect the rights of residents with mental disorder. The objective is to guarantee social justice and equity for victims of mental illness as well as ensuring that the rights of people suffering from mental disorders are respected. This new approach by the state government includes sufficient and detailed strategies aimed at reducing the impact of mental health in the state.  The basic components of the state’s mental health policy include promotion aimed at conducting awareness programmes and educating the people on the effects of substance and alcohol abuse, primary care and access to services, treatment guidelines at health care level, services for people with severe mental illness, reduction of work place stress and the risk of suicides and human resources for mental health. Presently, the first step in this new policy is investment in mental health across the state.

With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can now significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. We have for long allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery of victims of mental illness. It is hoped that the occasion of this year’s World Mental Health Day would help, in small way, to break down these barriers.

Tayo Ogunbiyi