Mental illness …. How to defeat the Storm. (Part 1)

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Early this months, an 18- year –old Nigerian killed his mother in their home, had canal knowledge of her corpse, ripped her body open in several places with a knife and then removed some vital organs which he sold to ritualists. In police detention, he broke down, saying he did not know how it all happened.  A few days later, the news emerged of yet another successful suicide on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. Lately, the bridge had become a place from which suicide –prone people, one of them a medical doctor, plunge into the Lagos Lagoon below. The police had been keeping 24 – hour watch over this bridge for some time. But in this last suicide, a Radio Nigeria employee beat the system and jumped to his death in the Lagoon below. We have been shocked as well by the story of a teenage girl who lived in a multi-tenancy apartment. She concealed her pregnancy for nine months from her co-tenants. When the baby came, they were startled by the cries of a new born baby. By the time they arrived in her room, she had broken the baby’s neck and swirled the face backwards. They called the police immediately.

These are just a few of the new faces of depression which have popped up in Nigeria, since this column last visited this subject. Only last week 100 containers of Tramadol and Codeine illegally imported into the country were seized by the customs service at the Lagos ports.

Tramadol and Codeine are leading causes of depression and mental heath questions in Nigeria. So are diabetes and many other factors which have not been contained.

As factors which cause depression multiply in Nigeria, growing even in magnitude, and more people go down, this column tries from time to time to remind its readers that there is yet no serious handle on it in this country, and that every-one should be doubly watchful not to inwardly cave in to predisposing factors and to eat and adopt healthy lifestyles which support mental health.

The last such column was read on-line by one of the editors of JEN REVIEWS, Jen Miller, who was researching DEPRESSION. Jenne informed me of a newer study on this subject and such findings as were thought helpful to help a depression patient bounce back to life.

A report on that study is presented in a two-part series from today. It was originally published on-line under the title A BLUE PRINT WHEN FELLING BLUE and the Subtite HOW A MENTAL HEALTH DIAGNOSIS CAN BE EMPOWERING.

I believe it will be helpful for people with mental health challenges and the doctors, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses who look after them. So should it for the parents of depressed people, their other family members (husbands, wives and children, siblings and friends).

Thanks, Jenne Miller…. The article which follows below can be found in https://www.jenreviews.com/mental-health-diagnosis.

A Blueprint When Feeling Blue: How A Mental Health Diagnosis Can Be Empowering

When First Impressions are the Worst Impressions.

The first time you ever heard the term “mental illness”, what did you think of? I can tell you what I thought of.

I was in the beginning of high school the first time I recall hearing this term. At the time, associated it with people who were unstable. I thought of people who were violent or adults who had tantrums or isolated old women who never left the house. I thought of mental illness as something that was permanent, something that individuals “had” and couldn’t recover from. Even though de-institutionalization was prevalent by that point, I still thought of people who have long stays at psychiatric wards and pictured them mumbling to themselves in a straight jacket.

Ironically, I was going through my own struggles with mental illness at the time. I didn’t call it mental illness then. I would go back and forth between feeling anxious and depressed, but I thought it was teen angst and aloofness. But was I mentally ill? My 16-year-old self would say “No way. I’m not crazy.” (Whatever “crazy” means…)

My teenage image of what an adult living with a mental illness might look like.

As I learned more about mental illness, my view of it changed substantially. By the time I was halfway through college, I realized that my anxiety and mood disorder had a significant impact on my functioning and that mental health existed on a much wider spectrum than I thought. My lived experience with mental illness was one of several factors that influenced me to study human behavior. But what about people who do not have the desire to learn about this topic? Are their impressions as biased, extreme, and inaccurate as the examples I mentioned above?

My teenage reactions to the term “mental illness” were similar to the negative stereotypes that exist in the public sphere. One of the most egregious stereotypes of people who live with mental illness is that they are more likely to be violent than the general population. The truth is that people who have a mental health diagnosis are about 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

A mannequin represents a victim of crime on the street. Despite certain stereotypes, individuals with a mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator.

Perhaps the stereotypical images discussed above are the first to come to people’s minds because they are the most extreme interpretations of what mental illness might look like. The hard truth is that the majority of mental illnesses are subtle. Somebody could be diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety and the rest of us would have no idea. In fact, over 40 million adults in the United States have a mental health condition. That is equal to nearly 1 in 5 people. And contrary to my 14-year-old imagination, the majority of adults with a mental illness are not violent, institutionalized, or home bound.

Mental illness affects children, adolescents, and adults from all walks of life, but this is not often talked about due to stigma. Although efforts to reduce stigma have made recent progress, it is not uncommon for the people who I have worked with to experience guilt and shame as reactions to a mental health diagnosis. I have heard story after story about their worries and projections. Would a mental health diagnosis alter their life in a frightening way? Would they have to take medication forever? Would they be able to work at a level that would allow them to meet their goals?

A man expressing worry and sadness, reactions that many people may have when diagnosed with a mental illness.

When new symptoms arise, it is reasonable to be concerned about how they may impact our quality of life. Yet, forecasting defeat can make symptoms of almost any mental health condition even worse. In fact, if is possible to utilize the information gathered about your diagnosis to make informed decisions about how to take care of yourself moving forward.

Something Doesn’t Feel Right…..

I think it is safe to say that we can all relate to having a physical illness or ailment. We have had upset stomachs, scratchy throats, or aches or pains that seemingly came from nowhere. All of us can relate to the feelings of helplessness and annoyance that arise when we want the condition to go away, but we have no control over when it will because we are unsure of what caused it and how to fix it. Some of us may have even been informed that there is no way to “fix” the ailment because we have something chronic, but that we can learn to live with it by managing the symptoms.

Now imagine that you are having symptoms, but they are emotional instead of physical. Picture struggling with a relentless sense of hopelessness, prolonged sadness, sudden episodes of panic, recurring flashbacks to a traumatic incident, or intense fear that others might be out to harm you. Like having an upset stomach or a mysterious pain, there could be a variety of reasons why you are having these symptoms and they are not always clear. And when we see a doctor for the weird stomach ache or sore throat that won’t go away, what does the doctor do? Ask questions: How long have the symptoms been occurring? Do they happen at specific times of the day? Do they happen after you eat? Then they will probably examine your throat or press on your stomach to examine your body further.

An experience that many of us are familiar with at the doctor’s office.

A similar process occurs when you seek consultation about a mental health condition. You tell a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist the symptoms and life events that you have been experiencing, and they will ask a series of questions to help find the nature of your condition. The questions that these professionals ask are typically called bio-psychosocial assessments and tend to be quite comprehensive. Similar to when you visit a medical doctor, the treatment plan may not be clear after one session (in fact, in many cases it is not!) but it can offer a roadmap about what to do nest.

I’d like to be clear that not everybody who sees one of these professionals necessarily has a mental health condition that can be treated using the same biological model that applies to medical diagnoses. In many circumstances, the problem that brings someone to a therapist or social worker requires a treatment plan that has a higher emphasis on fixing social or environmental problems. Yet, these interventions are also based on best practices from previous research and can improve mental health outcomes. British author Johan Hari wrote  excellent book named “Lost Connections” which gives several examples of what these interventions look like and how they can improve symptoms that were originally presented in a more clinical setting.

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