I was scrolling through Quora one morning, and I stumbled upon a meme on Albert Einstein. It talked about the complexity of his brain and how it is bigger than an average human brain. This gave me an insight into the differences in our brains as humans and how we cope with things happening around us.
The understanding and treatment of mental health have evolved significantly over time. In ancient times, mental illnesses were often attributed to supernatural causes or seen as a punishment from the gods. For example, in ancient Egypt, mental illnesses were believed to be caused by evil spirits and were treated through rituals and exorcisms.
Despite its prevalence, the struggles faced by those grappling with mental health issues often remain hidden in the shadows
During the middle ages, mental health was often associated with demonic possession, and individuals with mental illnesses were subjected to cruel treatment. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that a more scientific approach to mental health emerged. In today’s fast-paced world, mental health has emerged as a pressing concern affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), across the African region, more than 116 million people were already estimated to be living with mental health conditions pre-pandemic with an estimated 25 percent global rise in mental health illnesses post-pandemic. WHO estimates that the number of mentally ill Nigerians ranges from 40million to 60million. Disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are common in Nigeria, as in other countries in Africa. Despite its prevalence, the struggles faced by those grappling with mental health issues often remain hidden in the shadows. This article aims to bring these struggles to the forefront, fostering understanding, empathy, and support for individuals facing mental health challenges.
Read also: Mental health as human right
Shedding light on the challenges faced by individuals battling mental health issues
1. The stigma surrounding mental health: One of the primary obstacles faced by individuals with mental health issues is the pervasive stigma that surrounds these conditions. Society’s lack of understanding and misconceptions often lead to discrimination, isolation, and reluctance to seek help. People with mental illness may be characterized as being more violent than the rest of society in which they are called “dangerous”, “crazy”, or “incompetent” rather than unwell.
This stigma and discrimination make many people’s problems worse as they may even experience internalized stigma, where they come to believe the stereotypes about them. Institutional stigma also exists as it is more systematic and involves policies of the government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness.
Media representations of people with mental illness can influence perceptions and stigma, and they have often been negative, inaccurate, or violent representations. A study published in April 2020 looked at a recent example, the popular film, Joker (2019) which portrays the lead character as a person with a mental illness who becomes extremely violent. The study found that viewing the film “was associated with higher levels of prejudice toward those with mental illness”. Additionally, the authors suggest, “Joker may exacerbate self-stigma for those with a mental illness, leading to delays in help-seeking. Stigma and discrimination can contribute to worsening symptoms and reduced likelihood of getting treatment. By addressing this stigma head-on, we can create an environment that encourages open conversations and destigmatizes mental health struggles.
Read also: Mental health is a universal human right
2. Access to mental health services: Another significant challenge is the limited access to mental health services. On the World Mental Health Day of 2022, psychiatrists raised the alarm that one in four Nigerians are suffering from one mental disorder or the other. They added that about 75 percent of those who need mental health care do not have access to it, as Nigeria has only 300 psychiatrists to treat at least 200 million people. The experts expressed regret that the figure is 100 times less than the WHO’s recommendation.
If mental health treatments are patchy, inadequate, and underfunded in most Western nations, they are practically non-existent in the majority of lower and middle-income countries. But there is another means to see this crisis, one that doesn’t place it firmly in the realm of the medical system. Doesn’t it make sense that so many of us are suffering? Of course, it does!
We are living in a traumatizing and uncertain world. The climate is breaking down, we’re trying to stay on top of rising living costs, still weighted with grief, while revelation about the violence and injustice going on in the county shatters our faith. Individual therapy is brilliant for lots of people, and antidepressants can help some people cope. But I worry that a purely medicalized, individualized understanding of mental health puts plasters over big gaping wounds, without addressing the source of violence. They encourage us to adapt to systems, thereby protecting the status quo.
The World Poverty Clock has reported that there are 71 million extremely poor Nigerians according to the 2023 data. The unemployment rate, despite its fall in the second quarter of 2023, a lot of Nigerian youths are still out there looking for jobs. Poverty and unemployment have been identified as major contributors to mental health unbalance in Nigeria.
Highlighting these disparities can help advocate for increased funding, improved accessibility, and the integration of mental health services into primary healthcare systems.
3. Impact on relationships and daily life: Mental health struggles can profoundly affect relationships, work productivity, and overall quality of life. A few points that explain the impact of mental health on relationships and daily life.
• Communication problems: The person suffering from the symptoms may have trouble communicating their feelings, thoughts, and even their emotions.
• Work problems: Sometimes, if someone loses their job, it could trigger mental health problems or their mental health issues could affect how they work, and thus could lose their jobs.
• Substance abuse or addiction: Addiction and substance abuse is a common escape used by people suffering from mental illnesses. Then, they realize that it’s too late to let go of these addictions.
4. The role of education and awareness: Education and awareness play a crucial role in combating the struggles of mental health. In order to combat public stigma, public education and awareness on mental health should be actualized. On the part of self-stigma, self-awareness and self-acceptance should be encouraged. By promoting accurate information and dispelling myths, we can empower individuals to seek help, support their loved ones, and contribute to a more compassionate society.
Conclusion: By shedding light on the struggles of mental health, this article aims to initiate a broader conversation and inspire action. It is essential to recognize that mental health is not a solitary battle but a collective responsibility. Together, we can break the silence, provide support and create a world where mental health is prioritized, understood, and destigmatized.