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How to reduce rising cases of mental disorder in Nigeria, by experts

By Stanley Akpunonu
22 November 2018   |   4:13 am
As part of efforts to reduce rising cases of mental disorders in the country, experts have called for integration of mental health programmes into the school curriculum.

mental Health

The Gracehill Place Hospital urges integration of awareness programmes into school curriculum
As part of efforts to reduce rising cases of mental disorders in the country, experts have called for integration of mental health programmes into the school curriculum. This, they said, will promote healthy social, emotional and behavioural development of students and their general well being.

Consultant Psychiatrist at The Gracehill Place Hospital – A Mental Health and Addiction Rehab Facility Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, Dr. Abiodun Adejoke, told journalists: “Teachers and students should be provided with ways to recognize signs of developing mental health problems and there should be information about sources of help. Also, institutions should address the relationship between mental health, substance abuse and other negative coping behaviour, as well as the negative impact of stigma towards mental illness. Young people spend most of their day at school; it just makes sense to have mental health awareness and education become part of the curriculum. When we empower them, they will be able to get the help they need.”

Abiodun said it is very important to target the youth, who are the future of our country, in terms of awareness creation about mental health and well being. “Adolescent period and early adulthood is a time when many changes occur. The challenges of leaving home, new environment, bullying, educational challenges, relationship issues can be sources of psychological stress to people in this age group. Life event and difficulties are precipitants of mental illness. This takes us to the importance of school mental health programme. The age of onset of many mental health issues is around this age range, being equipped with knowledge about the symptoms, aetiology and sources of help will encourage prompt presentation and appropriate management,” the psychiatrist said.

She decried the high level of mental illness in Nigeria. “In fact many new patients present for treatment every day. Compared to previous years, the number of patients has actually increased. In the last three months new clients presentations to Gracehill hospital is about twenty. Also in other neuropsychiatric hospitals we are told the incidence is high. The current economic issues of substance abuse, psychological stress on background of genetic predisposition all account for this,” the psychiatrist said.

The Hospital’s proprietor and Business Director, Mrs. Chigozirim Otefe- Edebi, said the bigger problem is the fact that many people do not even know that what they may be experiencing is a form of a mental illness and may be going untreated. “People who are eventually diagnosed at a hospital or even a pharmacy sometimes take several weeks or months before they come in to see the psychiatrist or psychologist and with every passing day the condition sometimes gets worse. This denial and delay of action then makes the prevalence even higher than it should be,” she said.

Otefe-Edebi said this is also an opportunity for the society to start breaking the stigma with the next generation. “Parents, teachers and religious organizations who understand mental illness is just like a chronic physical ailment should start now to expose their children to this understanding and break the stigma so in their generation speaking up, accessing treatment and getting help will be easier therefore contributing to reducing the prevalence in the long term,” she said.

The psychiatrist said part of the problem is that today, priority is more towards economic survival. This, she said is due to the fact that everyone wants to survive, many parents go out early everyday to source for means of survival and this leaves the young ones at the mercy of house helps, neighbours, crèche and schools. “There is no opportunity of being able to confide in parents when having issues like sexual assault, bullying, low self esteem, lack of emotional intelligence which are all important in being happy and psychologically healthy,” Abiodun said.

Otefe-Edebi said: “You cannot give what you do not have. You cannot prioritize what you do not understand. The general belief is that if you give a child good food, create a conducive, comfortable home environment, put them in a great school everything will be fine and all these things cost money so parents have started working harder. However, there is the need for communication and interaction between parents and children so parents are encouraged to get more information and learning on effective parenting so their investments and efforts to give their children ‘the good life’ will not be counter productive in the long term.”

On the impact of social media on rising cases of mental illness, the psychiatrist said: “Social media is quickly evolving, exposure to social media can have both positive and negative effects. Social media exposure reduces real human contact, cyber bullying and harassment is a problem, which can lead to the victim experiencing depression and anxiety.

“Cyber bullying has also been the cause of many suicides in young people experiencing low self esteem or a mental health problem. Also, teenagers who use Facebook tend to be more narcissistic and aggressive. Facebook addiction is also a problem. Daily overuse of media and technology has negative effects on the health of all children by making them more prone to anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders.”

Abiodun said a lot still has to be done in terms of awareness creation on the subject in Nigeria. She said the agencies of government are trying but more needs to be done. “Mental health promotion is being carried out by them. It is a policy in the proposed mental health policy. There is ongoing work to increase awareness and sensitization of individuals and communities, combat stigma and discrimination, advocate and teach early detection and management and also preventive measures to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.

“Despite these, there is still need to create more awareness especially in the media so that misconceptions about mental health issues can gradually be corrected.”

Otefe-Edebi said: “Actually a lot is being done. Both public and private stakeholders are making efforts. Over the years, awareness has really increased. However its time to be even more targeted and break the barriers of ignorance promoted in religious circles about mental health and illness, include awareness in school programs at all levels and break the stigma. So more people can get help and treatment and function as normally as someone living with diabetes, hypertension or any other chronic physical illness.”

The psychiatrist said the Hospital is committed to helping the mentally ill recover from crisis in dignity, manage and enjoy daily life seamlessly while impacting their society positively with their unique passions, gifts, callings and talents. “Our purpose is to build a globally recognized, accredited and respected organization which provides comprehensive mental health and wellness solutions for everyone while providing a platform for all cadres of mental health practitioners to research, develop, practice and grow the field in Nigeria, Africa and beyond,” Abiodun said.