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Mental Health: Do We Know Enough?

Mental Health. Words hardly used by so many of us. Not so much because we may or may not attach any stigma to the topic,but more from a lack of total understanding.

As Nigerians we say it all the time-”His head is not correct” or ”She is mad o!” , but what we mean in essence is that the person we are referring to, probably made a decision or acted in a very questionable manner at that moment. Not neccessarily meaning that they suffer from any form of mental illness…Ok,  maybe sometimes a series of decisions made by that person may cause us to mean it the right way when we say it but…

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), however, mental health is “A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

By the above definition, what can we say? can we measure ourselves by these paramaters and say we are mentally healthy? How many people do you know fit the above definition around you? Me thinks it goes deeper- like yes you could realize your own abilities and be ready and able to work productively and fruitfully, but because you keep getting shut down everywhere you turn, you find it diffficult to cope with the ‘normal stresses’ of life which could include providing for your family, not to mention contributing to your community. Does that then mean you have mental health issues?

Mental health is all encompassing just like your physical health would be. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It is  important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Throughout the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could well be affected. This also means that mental health issues are quite common. There are some factors that contribute to these issues:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry: Scientists believe that the brain chemistry of certain people as well as their genes make them more likely or more susciptible to mental health issues.
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse: Sexual, emotional and physical abuse are common contributors to mental health problems. The loss of a loved one could also serve to destabilize one’s emotions and behaviour.
  • Family history of mental health problems: Some people are born into families with a history of mental health issues.

If you or someone you know is living with mental health problems how can you tell? …or how can you be sure, if you do suspect? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school.

It is imporant to learn more about these signs you may be feeling or you may have noticed in loved ones. To avoid getting sucked up in any of these warning signs, find ways to :

  • Stay connected with others
  • Stay positive
  • Get physically active
  • Help others
  • Get enough sleep
  • Develop coping skills that prevents you from sinking into the depths of emotional or social drawbacks.

We have a tendency to be so absorbed with what’s going on in our lives, that we don’t even notice when a friend or relative begins to exhibit these signs. Sometimes, it’s even we who could be so busy trying to be productive enough to meet the common demands and stresses of life to notice that we ourselves are suffering from or in danger of mental health problems. Maybe this article could help put us in check? or better still, help to get us to pay better attention to those around us? The rising cases in suicide and mental health problems shows that being our brothers’ keeper has become even more vital now than ever before.



Research: mentalhealth.gov