|by adejumo titi|
|Published on: Feb 24, 2010|
|The word health has dual meaning. The first is a state of well-being whereby an individual is free of illness, and the other is the state of mental well-being of the individual. Mental well being is yet to find its true foundation in some African nations because of the absence of mental health systems, policies or reforms. During medical examinations, consideration ought to be given to the mental state of the patient because it is a critical part of the individual’s health.
This is a major aspect of our health care systems that practitioners and lawmakers do not take into cognizance and this has not only affected the older generation. This negligence of mental health care has been passed down to younger ones such that the same syndrome is common to all. This type of illness is what researchers call psychosocial behavior and such behavioral defects are sometimes termed trends from the western world. This gives alcohol, drug abuse, prostitution, street children; domestic violence and other kind of psychosocial behavior an almost acceptable voice in our society.
Consider the report by Mental Health America (MHA) that, according to a surgeon’s general report, “African Americans are over-represented in populations that are particularly at risk for mental illness”. This must also be relevant to Africa where war, social unrest, natural disasters and political instability occur. One or more of these existing in a nation may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder amidst its citizenry, hence causing an increase in alcohol, tobacco and drug-related problems in the region concerned.
A major form of mental illness that may go unnoticed for a long time is depression. Depression as a symptom of mental illness is said to affect more women than men. Its causes, which include negative thinking patterns, situational factors and societal factors, are sometimes overlooked. Depression usually affects one’s mood, thoughts, body and behavior. Some Africans who have had to battle depression may consider it completely normal. In trying to explain it away, they speak of their low incomes and high household budgets, the roles they play in their nuclear and extended families, society’s expectations of them and their other responsibilities. This sense is passed on to the younger generation, leading to the common belief that it is normal for people to feel depressed (irrespective of the length of time).
The basic symptoms of depression may vary, including a persistent sad, anxious or empty mood, suicidal feelings, a reduced appetite and weight loss or an increased appetite and weight gain and persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment such as headaches, digestive disorders, restlessness, decreased energy, chronic pain and irritability, fatigue, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism, sleeping too much or too little, early-morning waking and loss of interest or pleasure in activities (including sex) and difficulty concentrating or making decisions. The prevalence of five or more of these symptoms for a period longer than two weeks indicates mental illness.
Consider weight gain as a symptom: there is a common belief in some western parts of Nigeria that the size of a married woman after sometime determines whether her husband has been faithful to his vows or not. Hence, weight gain is considered a good omen of a blissful marriage. The fact that there are no mental health policy programs or action plans points to the continuation or the prevalence of this disorder for as long as it remains unattended to. The hope for relevant reforms in the various health agencies may remain a mere wish unless it is accompanied by prayers and the concerted efforts of concerned individuals and agencies.
Mental well-being is a factor that affects the decisions and policies of every individual, society, state and nation. It is at the root of our choices and the very backbone of each individual action. Hence, we must try to understand it rather than rush to judge individuals.