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Economic hardship heightens the prevalence of Mental Health Issues

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Economic hardship heightens the prevalence of Mental Health Issues

Nigeria is currently battling a mental health epidemic, as millions of its citizens suffer from various mental health conditions, given the economic hardship and the socioeconomic challenges in the country.

Recently, several reports of Nigerians committing suicide due to the economic situation have surfaced on social media and in the news. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 40 million Nigerians (20% of the population), are affected by mental health conditions.

The most prevalent mental health conditions in Nigeria include depression and anxiety disorders. Based on a 2017 report, seven million Nigerians (3.9% of the population) suffered from depressive disorders, and 4.9 million Nigerians (2.7%) had anxiety disorders. Despite the prevalence of several mental health conditions, such as bipolar affective disorder, substance abuse disorders, and psychotic disorder (schizophrenia), the total expenditure on mental health make up 4.1% of the Nigerian government’s health budget, this is according to a 2020 report by WHO.

Consequently, about 25 to 30 percent of Nigerians suffer from mental health issues and less than 10 percent of the population have access to professional help, due to the fact that Nigeria has less than 250 psychiatrists for an estimated population of over 200 million.

A mental health condition is a range of disorders that affect an individual’s mood, thinking, and behaviour.

Dr. Kazeem Odunbaku, immediate past President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Neuropsychiatric Hospital Aro Abeokuta, revealed that there are no specific causes of mental health conditions, however, it is a complex interplay between many risk factors.

As stated by him, some risk factors that can predispose an individual to mental health conditions are genetic makeup, pregnancy related issues, sexual abuse, physical abuse, developmental disorders, use of psychoactive substances, such as cannabis, tobacco and other substances, occurrence of negative life events such as losing a loved one, unemployment, and economic hardship.

“There is something we call vulnerability and resilience. People with these predisposing factors are vulnerable to having mental health issues. For instance, someone with a parent or sibling, who is suffering from a mental illness, is already vulnerable. When such a person experiences a negative life event like loss of a loved one, unemployment, and marital issues, this negative experience adds to the vulnerability the person is already predisposed to,” he stated.

“Also, the prevailing economic situation of a nation has been discovered as one of the factors of mental health conditions. In hospitals, we have seen cases of mental health conditions, where one of the precipitating factors was the poor state of the economy.

Some people have experienced a downturn in their businesses, reduced patronage, loss of jobs, hence, they came down with mental health conditions, majorly depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal attempts, while some actually committed suicide. Recently, neuropsychiatric hospitals have been recording an increase in the number of new patients and the rate of admission has also increased,” he added.

He spoke extensively on the various symptoms of mental health conditions which vary, depending on the specific type of mental health condition. Depressive disorder is characterised by persistent low mood continuously for two weeks, lack of interest in favourite activities, fatigue, insomnia, reduced appetite, eating disorders, feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness, low self esteem, suicidal thoughts, which can lead to committing suicide.

Signs that indicate an anxiety disorder are, excessive anxiety, fear, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, tremors, mental tension, chest tightness, and chest pain. People with psychotic disorder (Schizophrenia) can be seen walking naked on the streets, they also experience symptoms like hearing unknown voices (hallucination), seeing strange things, delusions (a strange belief that people have evil intentions towards them), talking irrationally or out of context.

Bipolar affective disorder as the name implies is divided into depression and manic. Signs of Manic include restlessness, talkativeness, excessive happiness/anger, and inflated self esteem. The extreme form of a substance disorder is addiction. It is important to note that, sleep disorder is the most common symptom in every mental health condition.

According to Dr. Odunbaku, the best way to deal with a mental health issue is to seek professional help. He, therefore, noted that due to the chronic nature of mental health conditions, a relapse is possible and the duration of treatment is determined by the specific type of illness and other precipitating factors associated with it.

“The only way to deal with a mental health condition is to see a mental health professional. It’s fine to talk to someone close to you or a loved one, it’s fine to get social support, however, this is not enough. It is imperative to reach out to mental health professionals to receive the proper treatment and management that is required. Although, some cases do not require the use of medication, while some cases just require psychological intervention, some other cases require the use of medication, psychological intervention, therapy and lifestyle modification,” he said.

To prevent mental health issues, he stressed the importance of getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising, belonging to a good social network, and avoiding any form of psychoactive substance.

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In addition, he warned against the stigmatization of people with mental health conditions, thereby emphasizing the importance of showing support, and care to these people.

To bridge the mental health gap in the country, he called for the inclusion of mental healthcare into the primary healthcare system, coupled with educating people, creating awareness and adequate funding towards mental healthcare by the Nigerian government.

The Founder of Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative, and the Convener, Mental Health Reforms Organisation in Africa, Zion Ameh, stated that there are no scientifically proven causes of mental health conditions, however, he highlighted some risk factors that can lead to mental health conditions, such as genetic predisposition, environmental factors, race factors, and abuse of drugs/substances.

Talking about the impact of the economic hardship on the prevalence of mental health issues in Nigeria, he further stated that the principal cause of mental health condition across the globe is poverty.

“One of the cardinal causes of mental disorders across the globe is poverty. We almost won’t be able to separate poverty and social economic development from the mental well-being of any citizen of a nation. Particularly in the context of a nation like Nigeria, where we have ethnic crisis, religious crisis, security issues, which have destabilized the opportunities that people would have leveraged on to make a living.

“We can’t overemphasize the impact of the socioeconomic challenges on the population, especially the young population, which are supposed to be the workforce and the brain behind the development we want to see whether economically, or in terms of technology, or IT or other spheres of living we have across the globe. It really calls for urgency that state actors and non-state actors put their hands on deck to see that this issue is addressed,” he said.

He categorized the signs of mental health issues into three: physical, emotional and behavioral, adding that understanding the duration of these signs and their impacts on the daily functionality of the individual is crucial.

“These signs could be physical, emotional, and behavioral. Some of the signs and symptoms too look out for are Weakness, loss of concentration, loss of appetite, sleep disorders, lack of enthusiasm in activities, feeling of guilt from past events, and isolation. When you connote these signs, it is important to seek professional help,” he stated.

To tackle the issues hindering the accessibility of mental healthcare in Nigeria, he urged the Nigerian government to integrate mental health into Universal Health coverage, as well as to upscale the primary healthcare centers.

“Accessibility remains a huge problem. Over the years, we have done a lot of awareness programs at communities in different states. When they are not aware, where do they get the support from? Where do they get the care from? This remains a very big problem. In December, we relaunched a campaign which is called the Mental Health Integration into Universal Health Coverage, a global movement which ensures that the government lifts the financial burden of mental healthcare off the citizens of the country.

“We need to introduce improved, quality and better healthcare at the primary healthcare level across the country. We also need to revamp and upscale our primary healthcare centers to be able to provide standard services to Nigerians, so that people don’t have to travel before they can access quality healthcare,” he remarked.

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