Sunday, 4th June 2023

Guarding your mental health: Red flags to watch

Most people feel that mental disorders are rare, and would not happen to them or members of their family. This is largely false! Mental Health illnesses are very common.

Mental Health illnesses are very common. In fact, about 30% of Nigerians are most likely suffering from a mental health condition, though majority of them are undiagnosed. PHOTO:HR review

Just about a week ago, a 64-year-old man opened fire on a crowd of thousands of people at a music concert in Las Vegas. This resulted in hundreds of people being severely injured, and 59 people dead – himself included. Clearly, a person that would do such a thing must have some sort of mental instability. Investigations showed that he was being treated with some anti-psychotic medications which he may or may not have been taking. Although, his diagnosis is unknown, mental disorder cannot be ruled out.

According to a study published in 2015 from Vanderbilt University, USA, up to 60% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970, display symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions and severe depression, before committing such crimes. Although this is an extreme case, it is important to note that mental health disorders can take many forms and usually, most people show signs and symptoms which are often ignored. Learning about these early warning signs and symptoms is important for early precautions. Early intervention can reduce the severity of a mental health condition and with proper therapy, it may even delay or prevent the mental illness altogether.

Mental health disorder is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in a person’s behaviour, mood or thought process. Usually, this results in an inability to cope with daily routines, to relate with others or function properly. Most people feel that mental disorders are rare, and would not happen to them or members of their family. This is largely false! Mental Health illnesses are very common. In fact, about 30% of Nigerians are most likely suffering from a mental health condition, though a majority of them are undiagnosed. This number may even be more, due to the recent economic downturn that has led to increased stress upon people; and mental health problems have been shown to be related to excessive stress.

Below are some symptoms and behavioural changes to look out for. One or two symptoms alone does not connote a mental disorder but, if a person is exhibiting multiple symptoms for an extended period, it may be time to seek professional help.

Apathy: Apathy is a state of indifference or the suppression of emotions or a lack of feelings. Usually, people in a state of apathy have no desire or interest to do anything. Usually, such people have a flat affect, that is, to have a severe reduction in emotional expressiveness, have a diminished monotonous voice and diminished facial expressions. They could stay in their room all day without doing anything.

Weight changes: Usually, this usually ties in with appetite changes like eating excessively or not eating at all. Of course, a majority of us wouldn’t mind losing a few kgs, but when a person has a drastic weight change in a short amount of time, there may be an underlying factor. Such a person should be monitored closely and possibly taken to a doctor to find out the cause of such drastic weight change.

Sleep Problems: It could be Hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) or Insomnia (inability to sleep). You have a situation whereby an individual would sleep for the whole day, or be awake all night and unable to sleep. Sometimes, such an individual may be able to go a few days without getting any sleep at all. This is usually one of the tell-tale signs that something may be going wrong.

Withdrawal: Staying away from people and having no interest in socializing or interacting with friends and family like before. Being isolated for an extended period of time, either at work or at home may be a sign that something deeper may be going wrong.

Illogical Thinking: Individuals may have a flight of ideas, disordered thoughts or racing thoughts that usually are detached from reality. Sometimes, they may appear hyperactive and want to execute so many plans in a short amount of time which may be unrealistic.

Mood Changes: Mood swings refer to changes in mood and most people usually experience mood swings to a certain degree. However, significant mood changes that last for weeks are seen in conditions such as Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar depression, Schizophrenia and may be the initial stages of a mental health illness.

Substance Abuse: When a loved one starts drinking alcohol excessively or abusing drugs such as cocaine. This may be in response to a stressful situation, or a trigger such as a divorce or death of a loved one. This Excessive substance use normally results in clinically significant impairment and this may contribute to mental illness.

Decreased Functioning: An unusual drop in functioning at school, some may experience a marked decrease in work performance, difficulty performing familiar tasks. Having a bad day is one thing, but when this goes on for weeks and months, such a person needs to be properly evaluated.

Unusual Behavior: Some individuals may start displaying some odd behaviour that is not in line with their usual self. For example, this may be expressed in different ways, such as excessive worrying or anxiety, unusual engagement in pleasurable yet careless activities like sex with strangers or overspending. Some may start to become overly suspicious, or distrustful and some may have magical thinking or perceptions such as hallucinations that are not real. All these can be characterized as odd behaviour, and such persistent odd behaviour should never be ignored because usually there is an underlying mental condition that is brewing.


Suicidal Ideation: In light of all the suicidal episodes that have been recorded in Lagos in the last few years, it is apparent that many people are suffering from one mental health disorder or the other. If a loved one is constantly talking about being tired of life, or wanting to end it all, or talking about causing harm to himself or to others, such a person is suffering from a mental health disorder and chances are that he or she may eventually carry out such ideations if they are not properly managed on time.

Most times, different people with the different diagnosis would experience different signs and symptoms and it is important to be able to recognize them. Often times, family and friends, and even the individuals themselves may start to recognize that something is not quite right about their feelings or behaviour but they choose to ignore it. This type of ‘bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away attitude can be far from helpful’. This is the time to take action to seek professional help for such a person before it becomes a full-blown mental illness that endangers the lives of others. Mental health disorders are very common and it could happen to anyone. The earlier we start to end the stigma surrounding mental health, the earlier people feel more comfortable with discussing their symptoms and the chances are improved for treatment.

Disclaimer: The medical information provided on here by Dr. Nini Iyizoba is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment