• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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Economic hardship worsens mental health struggles in Nigeria

Mental health is a universal human right

…Medical experts say there’s surge in psychiatric patients admitted since 2023

As economic hardship deepens across Nigeria, concerns are mounting over the toll it is taking on the mental well-being of citizens.

The intersection of financial strain and mental health has become increasingly evident, prompting questions about the extent to which the current cost-of-living crisis is affecting people’s mental health.

In a recent data, the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital located in Yaba has disclosed a staggering 100 percent surge in the number of psychiatric patients admitted in 2023.

This surge, as explained by Dr. Olugbenga Owoeye, chief medical director (CMD) of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Yaba, is extremely rooted in the rising prevalence of mental health disorders across the nation, worsened by the prevailing economic adversities compounded with various socio-economic factors.

To gain insight into this pressing issue, BDsunday reached out to medical experts to shed light on the situation and uncover any proven cases within hospitals.

Richard Adebayo, a consultant psychiatrist, said the cost of living affects all areas of life and it might be difficult to seek for daily shelter by some individuals, accommodation and this premiant to the economic downturn.

“The economic downturn in Nigeria has created a breeding ground for stress, anxiety, and depression among individuals,” Adebayo stated.

“Financial instability, unemployment, and inflation contribute significantly to the psychological burden experienced by many Nigerians,” he added.

“We have observed a noticeable increase in individuals presenting with symptoms of depression and anxiety directly linked to their financial hardships,” Adebayo noted.

“These cases often manifest as sleep disorder and tendency of some people are coming down with major psychotic disorders these are on increase now because of the economic recession,” he said.

Speaking further, the psychiatrist said that “A lot of people are frustrated and worried, and have become irritable, noting that there is a lot of marital disharmony as a result of economic problem people are passing through. And all this eventually affect their mental health.

He added that a lot of Nigerians are not actualising their basic needs, so this has put a question mark on the survival of individuals. “People are anxious on how to survive not just for today but for tomorrow, level of anxiety has gone up. A lot of people are depressed; some are in economic travails which has defied a lot of their own adaptive measures. so, the rate of suicide has really gone up. When people are not able to actualise their dreams in life as a result of economic travails and adversities,” Adebayo said.

However, the correlation between economic hardship and mental health struggles is not just conditional. A number of studies indicate a clear association between financial stressors and psychiatric disorders.

Persistent association exists between socioeconomic disadvantage, encompassing unemployment, low income, poverty, debt, and inadequate housing, and diminished mental well-being.

“Individuals facing financial strain are at heightened risk of developing mood disorders, substance abuse issues, and suicidal ideation,” according to findings.

Within hospitals nationwide, healthcare professionals corroborate these findings, reporting an uptick in admissions related to high blood pressure and mental health breakdown make worse by economic challenges.

Larne Yusuf, a public health expert in Lagos, recounted the stress on mental health services due to the influx of patients grappling with financial insecurities.

“We are witnessing a surge in admission of individuals experiencing high blood pressure and acute mental health emergencies triggered by the economic downturn,” Yusuf remarked. “These cases demand immediate intervention to prevent further escalation.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a whopping 20 percent of Nigerians are affected by mental illness and psychiatrists have also raised the alarm that one in four Nigerians, that is about 60 million Nigerians, are suffering from one mental disorder or the other.

“We cannot deny that the increase of cost of living is affecting the mental health of Nigerians. We need to understand that the mental health of Nigerians is a spectrum that blooms from mental well-being. An increase in the cost of living could push people to a distress state. These individuals are not necessarily sick but not enjoying well-being, and if it is not properly managed, it causes mental illness,” Taiwo Sheikh, psychiatric professor at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, said.

Speaking further in an interview, Sheikh said that people were generally more distressed nowadays because of the cost of living.

According to him, “It is not all distress that comes to the hospital, some have landed in wrong places patronising churches, mosques, and traditional dimensions.

“My advice is that people should open up and do not bottle up things. A lot of individuals are facing difficulties and we should be mindful of who we also speak with.

“This challenge is a temporary time. We are all in it together, we would bounce back. When you lose your sleep, try as much as possible to talk to someone and visit the most appropriate places to visit,” Sheikh said.

A Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, Plateau State, Taiwo Obindo, noted recently that severe distressing conditions can make people develop mental disorders.

“Whatever stress anybody goes through, it leads to distress, and distressed people could show one or two symptoms if the symptoms are not severe but when it is severe or it lasts too long, people can go into the realm of mental health disorders or mental health conditions, and any of them can happen.

“People who are happy and have so many positive things going their way may possibly be on the right side of mental health. Those who have challenges over time may gravitate towards having a mental health disorder.

“The common ones will likely be anxiety disorder, depression, and people becoming suicidal if they cannot see beyond where they are. Generally, people become irritable, and you can see that we are witnessing road rage on the highways,” he said.

Also, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the National Hospital, Abuja, Olusegun Soyombo, said mental health conditions are stress-related conditions and can become worse.

“If someone who had depression before gets into a difficult economic situation, the person can have a worsening or re-occurrence of the depressive symptoms and the same for other forms of mental health conditions. For people who haven’t had any mental health challenges before but may be predisposed, they may develop mental health conditions for the first time.

“So, someone who lost his job in this period may develop a mental health disorder. However, not everyone who is faced with that kind of stress will develop a mental health condition,” he said.

However, economic hardship in Nigeria is undeniably taking a toll on the mental well-being of its populace. Urgent action is needed to address this dual crisis and provide all-inclusive support for those dealing with the deep psychological effects of economic adversity.