It does no one any good to dissimulate or dissemble our feelings in a bid to hide or escape the present-day realities in the lives of citizens all over the world. Yes, there is high inflation, and food insecurity all over the world but the case in Africa and Nigeria in particular calls for serious concern and attention. The level of hardship and hunger witnessed in Nigeria in recent times has never been imagined nor occurred to anybody as something that would come to be. Hardship, hunger and poverty are major social determinants of health, and they have a significant impact on mental health. We may not take full cognizance of people who are already mentally challenged, but healthy individuals who suffer lack and want are likely to be depressed due to discrimination and isolation.
Mental health is a social issue and the community and government must liaise to provide enabling support to the mentally challenged
Due to the hardship in the country, a lot of people see food and medicare in their dreams and not having food, and means of transportation are great stressors which can cause depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hardship which comes in the form of financial insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, discrimination, and violence can lead to depression, anxiety or sleep problems. People who are struggling to make ends meet may worry about how to pay for rent, food and other necessities, lose hope and turn to beggars.
Moreover, beggars lack access to basic hygiene, sanitation facilities, and medical care which could lead to illnesses, infections and the spread of diseases. Beggars often face social stigma and discrimination, which can contribute to their isolation and make it difficult for them to access support or opportunities for improvement. Begging makes it difficult to break free from the cycle of poverty. The ability to seek sustainable solutions such as education, employment or social support systems is completely hindered by them.
Hitherto, begging does not only attract sympathy or elicit empathy from kind-hearted individuals, it also has economic implications for a decent society. It would not only affect tourism; it would also limit visitation to places where beggars often flock.
Besides, depression is a socio-economic disease. It is on record that patients with clinical depression experience mood disorders when they suffer from lack and want. A test with Baboons in Kenya in the 1920s showed that displaced baboons who lack food and space are usually depressed and stressed. Financial stress is a major cause of depression and anxiety disorder. Inequality is one of the drivers of the mental health crisis and there is a link between mental health and money. Going into a recluse, withdrawal, avoiding social functions, and church attendance are various reactions of our mental state which could be detrimental.
On the same note, ‘Japa’ is already a syndrome in Nigeria and ‘Sapa’ is a mental condition. The grass is not green in Nigeria making citizens unduly stressed with ₦35,000 minimum wage which is less than $50 and the government does not show any sign or readiness to remedy the ugly situation. Not being able to meet financial goals whether monthly or annually creates shame, guilt and discouragement. The mind and body are connected when it comes to stress and anxiety. Nowadays, we pay very high amounts for fuel, gas, electricity, education, transportation etc. and this definitely impacts our mental health. On 29 June 2018, ‘Psychiatric Times’ classified inequality and poverty as social determinants of mental health.
Furthermore, hunger is a lack of access to enough food to meet basic needs. A recent CDC study on food insecurity in America found that food insecurity is associated with a 257% higher risk of anxiety and 253% higher risk of depression. Several nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin B12, B9 (folate), and zinc, can cause symptoms of depression and dementia such as low mood, fatigue, cognitive decline, and irritability. Letters on poverty, hardship, food insecurity and even write-ups about helpless Nigerians’ condition flooded the media starting from 2015 to the present era signifying that a dark cloud has covered the prosperity of the nation plunging the citizens into untold hardship and suffering. Suffering has a place in religion whereby the hope of recovery gives whoever is going through ‘hell’ the possibility of a life in paradise or a glorious life in the golden city – Heaven. Yet, suffering impacts our worldview, and mental health depending on the nature and cause of suffering.
Convincingly, someone may think or believe that there is nothing wrong with the government in Nigeria owing to high inflation all over the world but such views could be likened to “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave”. The allegory imagines a group of people chained together inside an underground cave as prisoners. Nigeria has never had it so divided, depraved, deprived and disgruntled as in the present time. This is so because by tackling the root causes of poverty and inequality, societies can work towards healthy living and high productivity from the citizenry. Going to university is good, starting a small business is wonderful but there is no guarantee of a successful outcome in recent times. 40% of Nigerians go into debt after marriage (wedding), childbirth, burial etc. which affects mental health. Experts have stated that 25% of Nigerians suffer mental health issues. Mental health is a social issue and the community and government must liaise to provide enabling support to the mentally challenged. Mental health problems cost the UK government £117.9 billion in a year.
In addition, people living below the poverty line are 3-4x likely to have mental problems. Testimonies from suicide survivors attest to the fact that they felt forsaken, unaided and abandoned. Poverty is a social and economic issue according to the World Bank and one-sixth of the world’s population lives in poverty. Poverty causes clinical depression, psychological problems and behavioural disorders. Poverty in children while growing up as well as stress and trauma affect children’s ability for positive thinking. Lack of support and access to resources in general affect mental health. The most vulnerable segment of the population, children and women are severely affected by poverty. Even though African women are emotionally and mentally stronger, they still pass through a whole lot because they cannot afford their best life due to poverty especially while performing their role as mothers.
Again, poverty is a multidimensional problem affecting the social, economic and cultural aspects of life. Clinical depression and cognitive decline are the outcomes of poverty in the elderly. Poverty exacerbates circumstances of stress, anxiety, family stress, and depression. Women from poor families have a high rate of depression and low self-esteem as well as an elevated rate of suicide and substance abuse. According to ‘Psychology Today’, poverty decreases social support and having the emotional support of friends and family helps people cope with difficult situations in their lives. Poverty does not just affect human beings but animals as well. It’s very obvious that food is the costliest thing an average earner can buy in Nigeria while the poor and low-income earners suffer hunger and the health implications of lack of food. When the cost of living is extremely high as it is in Nigeria, it first registers in the subconscious mind and terrorizes the mental stability of individuals. Some cases of pilfering, theft and stealing are caused by hunger.
In conclusion, mental health issues are common but they don’t have to be inevitable. Mental Health is a human right and every responsible government works towards reducing incidences of mental health disorders. Hardship and hunger do not only affect mental health, it has a toll on physical health as well causing complications of diabetes, ulcer etc. Several interventions in the health system and the economy can help to salvage, prevent and control emerging trends. Some causes of mental health problems include; child abuse, trauma, neglect, social isolation, loneliness, discrimination, stigma, racism, poverty, debt, bereavement, severe stress etc. Citizens can help themselves by being financially responsible which gives happiness. It’s not about how much we have but how much we can keep. Do not always focus on the display and activities on social media. One can start journaling to record events and situational assessment. This may help to limit mindless spending. Your physical health and mental health will always benefit from how you manage your money. The rate of influence of your financial situation (security, freedom) on your mental health cannot be over-emphasized. They are known as triggers for issues such as anxiety and depression. Having a budget to determine how much you have and how to spend it is very important. One can still venture into digital businesses in the face of rising high prices. Money management is a psychology.
The effects of hardship, hunger and poverty on mental health can be far-reaching. They can impact a person’s ability to function at work, school and in their relationships. By addressing the social determinants of health, and making mental health services more accessible and affordable, we can create a society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and live a mentally healthy life.