04 Sep

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By Blessing Odega, Nigeria News Agency 

How to end the stigma associated with mental health challenges: Anita Madaki, an undergraduate, has been battling with intense feeling of unworthiness; that feeling has been so strong and overwhelming that she no longer derives pleasure in things that were once pleasurable to her.

She is also finding it difficult to concentrate, and keeps complaining of fatigue, irritability and sleeping disorders. The once extroverted lady has become withdrawn and a shadow of herself.

There is something even more frightening – she tells everyone that cares to listen to her that she was no more useful and was better off dead. She appears optimistic that she will be happier with the serenity in the grave.

Madaki says she has tried talking to her parents, siblings and friends, but no one appears to have a grasp of what she is going through.

“My parents say I am acting strange. They have cautioned me to be careful what I say. My father has warned that he cannot have a lunatic for a child and has threatened to disown me if I showed further signs of bringing reproach to the family name. “I have thought to myself and my conclusion is that if no one understands me, then I better end it.

“I keep hearing voices in my head telling me to end it and find peace. At a point, I considered quaffing a poisonous substance, but delayed that a bit when I surfed the internet and found out that there were many people feeling the same way.

“In the internet, I discovered that the traits I was exhibiting were the symptoms of depression and decided to seek counsel in a mental health care facility. “At the facility, I learnt that depression, like any other physical health challenge, could be handled and the victim rescued from the fatal option of suicide.’’

Few weeks after confiding with the mental health medics, Madaki is back to her former self and is gradually returning to her classes. The thoughts of suicide are gone.

She still believes that the situation would have degenerated to the worst if she had listened to the fears about what people would think of her if she visited a mental home.

Madaki counts herself lucky that she did not allow the stigma associated with visiting a mental health facility and being branded a “mad’’ person did not stop her from seeking medical assistance.

Analysts indeed agree that Madaki was lucky that she sought medical assistance because many in her shoes had opted for suicide.

Two weeks ago, for instance, the son of a Vice Chancellor in a federal university committed suicide because he was angry with his parents for scolding him.

He had misused monies given to him and felt neglected when the parents threatened to stop further assistance to him if he did not change.

The student did not see a need to share his anxieties, fears and frustrations with relations, friends or school mates at Babcock University, before ending his life.

Similarly, the Choir director of a popular Abuja-based Church, who appeared a happy and contented person, took his life recently. As expected, everyone was surprised because he was always cheerful.

Analysts say that sharing his inner feelings with others or even seeking help in a mental facility would have saved him from going for the worst option.

There is also this case of a student in Jos that killed himself because he failed to make the cut-off marks in his Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB), examinations. The student was said to be angry that his friends were leaving him behind after failing the test for the second time.

The fellow was mentally depressed, yes, but he would have had some counselling on the way forward. He did not consider that before killing himself. In his mental derailment, he thought that ending it all was the best solution.

Not long ago, too, a student killed himself because he got a second class upper, when he targeted a first class! This one is surprising because even people with pass degrees are excellent in the practice of their professions.

The examples are as many as they are intriguing, but Dr Friday Philip, a psychiatrist with Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), says that most of the cases of suicide occur because emotional and mental health issues are often neglected and not accorded similar degree of importance as bodily health.

He regrets that many end their lives without knowing they had depression and even those who knew, didn’t have the courage to seek medical help due to the stigma associated with seeking professional assistance in view of the fear that people will consider them as lunatics that are mentally unfit for usual life.

Philip particularly chided members of the society for regarding every visitor to the psychiatrist as mentally deranged, saying that the stigma was forcing people into delusion, self withdrawal and suicide.

“When a person gets sick, the individual will see a doctor to seek counselling and professional advice. Seeing a psychiatrist should mean the same thing – seeking help and advice.

“Unfortunately, in our society, going to a psychiatrist often suggests to family members that the patient is insane or a lunatic. When they have such feeling, they worsen the problem by avoiding the affected person without encouraging him or her to trudge through,’’ he said.

He said that keeping mental health challenge to oneself is “highly detrimental”, noting that many lives had been lost because of such attitude. “People hardly seek help for mental challenges because of the stigma usually associated with such situations. Unfortunately, by the time the challenge is discovered, it is usually too late,” he said.

He emphasised the need to avoid such stigmatisation, saying that it had discouraged many from seeking psychiatric help early enough. He also advised people with symptoms of depression to promptly seek professional medical help.

Mrs. Ijeoma Laluwoye, a clinical psychologist with University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, equally says that a feeling of overwhelming fatigue, sleeping disorder and internal feeling of loneliness are symptoms of depression.

Other symptoms, she says, include loss of interest in things that one initially derived joy from, inability to concentrate, and the feeling of worthlessness. Very often, too, a depressed person appears lost in deep thoughts,” she adds.

She blames the rise in depression on the rapid global changes, adding that 90 per cent of people who commit suicide are depressed individuals that would have had a change of mind if they sought and got some professional help.

According to her “stress, when poorly managed, can also lead to depression’’.

“ The trend is a global cause of various other diseases because it usually affects an individual’s overall health status,’’ she states. r Charles Nwaoga, an expert in Psychiatry medicine at the Quintessential Healthcare, Jos says that government and wealthy individuals must boost access to mental healthcare by establishing more mental health facilities in Nigeria.

“Establishing such mental facilities is becoming more imperative with the increasing cases of mental illness in the country,’’ he says. According to him, mental health services are barely accessible outside the state capitals, adding that there is an urgent need to establish mental healthcare facilities at the grassroots.

He also called on the government to subsidise the treatment of mental illness to encourage more people to seek for it. Like Nwaoga, many analysts say that there is the need for more mental health facilities in the country. They also suggest more enlightenment toward encouraging depressed people to visit the facilities so as to get the right attention and curtail the rising tide of suicides among young Nigerians.