By Professor Taiwo Sheikh

Welcome to this week’s “Mental Health Chat Room”. This is a chat room where we discuss the basics of our mental health in order to understand and have a full grasp of the rudiments of mental health and mental well-being.

This is part of our mental health advocacy activities aimed at promoting our wholesome wellness, preventing mental illness, improving our awareness of mental illness, understanding that effective, qualitative and modern (technology-based) mental health care services are available to ensure quality living, harmonious interpersonal relationships and peaceful coexistence within our communities.

Last time, we discussed mental health disorders following traumatic experiences, otherwise referred to as “psychological or emotional trauma” and we specifically focused on “depression and suicide. Most people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, war, accidents, and domestic violence will have reactions that may include shock, feeling sad or hopeless, poor sleep, emotional outbursts, including anger or aggression, loss of interest in activities, feeling tired, or not having enough energy, getting lack of pleasure from activities that were once enjoyable, having a difficult time focusing and making decisions, experiencing feelings of worthlessness, contemplating suicide or thinking about death frequently.

For such persons, life could be very distressing and these feelings could be debilitating (worsening productivity and interpersonal relationships). The goal of treatment of depression is to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms, improve daily functioning, help the person better manage with the event that triggered the disorder and prevent suicide or self-harm.

Today, I find it necessary with the utmost sense of urgency to address a matter that is currently trending on social media which may have a profoundly damaging effect on the mental health-seeking behaviour of our society.

It is a general misconception about the relationship between our mental health and spirituality. Mental health issues are otherwise referred to as emotional issues and the disorders emanate from our brains.

Because we cannot measure such disorders the way we measure temperature with a thermometer or blood pressure, or test for blood sugar or x-ray does not make it less medical like fever, hypertension or diabetes.

Our sense of spirituality is the sense of our individual personal relationship with our creator (God), or a ‘divine being’ that we consider to be of highest influence in our day-to-day activity or a challenge that is before us.

Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory/physical experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature.

This description is not restricted to a particular belief system, culture, tradition or religion. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. Some may find that their spiritual life is intricately linked to their association with a church, mosque, temple, shrine or synagogue.

A study conducted among religiously unaffiliated Americans reported that thirty-seven per cent (37 per cent) classify themselves as spiritual but not religious, while sixty-eight per cent (68 percent) say they do believe in God, and fifty-eight per cent (58 percent) feel a deep connection to the Earth.

Whereas religion can serve as a vehicle for spirituality, one can be spiritual without being religious. When we deepen this further, we will realize that those who consider themselves to be spiritually oriented, they will report spirituality in virtually all the activities in which they are engaged.

This includes but is not limited to challenges of life, examinations, travels, relationships, employment, income generation, illnesses (propensity, recovery and outcome) etc! What this means is that to them all illnesses have a spiritual component, we know that such spirituality is not a preserve of mental/emotional ill-health alone!! Even hypertension, stroke, diabetes, asthma, road traffic accident and name it have spiritual components!!! We seek spiritual connectedness when we experience any of these conditions.

This brings us to the relationship between mental/emotional disorders and spirituality. The misconception that mental/emotional ill-health is strictly a spiritual condition and must be addressed as such is not only misleading but has become a barrier to the uptake of modern mental health care services. Published studies on the pathway to mental health care in Nigeria reported that close to 70 per cent of patients that present to modern mental health care facilities have consulted unorthodox centres prior to presentation and a significant percentage of such facilities are “spiritual healing” centres. This leads to delay presentation to the hospital thereby worsening the condition and often depriving the patient of access to quality care.

Because of our understanding of the belief among a lot of our people that there is spirituality in every illness and indeed all conditions that we encounter in our daily lives, our approach to care for all mental health/emotional disorders and by extension to all conditions (illnesses) is now more holistic (comprehensive).

The modern approach to care for all patients today is “Bio-Psycho-Social”, is a comprehensive care model that takes into consideration the patient’s physical, psychological and social/religious/spiritual/cultural needs, a combination that has proven to be more effective than any one of them being applied alone. ‘Bio’ means Biological; that is the use of medications (medicinal/pharmacological remedies) and procedures, some others will refer to it as physical care or treatments to bring relief to the patient.

‘Psycho’ means Psychological; that is the use of psychotherapy and/or counselling as a caring approach or adjuvant to biological care to bring relief to the patient, whereas ‘Social’ means the inclusion of social interventions which include but are not limited to lifestyle adjustments, spirituality, religiosity, cultural practices and traditional values in addressing health challenges of the patients. It is important that we recall the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of health, which is “Physical, Mental and Social well being….!

Therefore, the negative assertion that mental health is more spiritual than physical is wrong, misleading and misconceived. Such misleading statements are based on primordial myths, misconceptions and a demonstration of a clear lack of knowledge and understanding of the existence of the brain as an organ of the body and how the brain functions.

It is very important that the public is well educated on the functioning of the brain and conditions that can result in the lack of proper functioning of the brain. The public should also understand the early symptoms and signs of poor mental health such as unexplained poor sleep, weakness, poor appetite, inability to think straight, low mood, feeling anxious and inability to concentrate or focus on tasks.

People who have experienced recent psychological traumatic events including domestic violence or accidents should seek mental health consultations. It is important to report early signs of mental/emotional ill-health to mental health experts to avoid deterioration and chronicity, noting that early proper interventions will minimize or completely eliminate complications.

Finally, the public is encouraged to understand that the “spiritual” approach to care for persons with mental/emotional illness is only a component of the care and mental health care personnel usually include it in the (holistic) care package.

I hope we have a good understanding of the mental/emotional disorders and spirituality hoping this will further improve our health-seeking behaviour and encourage early presentation to the mental health expert in order to prevent deterioration and complications.

Note:  If you have comments, questions and contributions, please reach out to us on +2348037004611 or email us at latshe1@gmail.com.

Readers comments

His brain is resistant to learning, reading

Dear Prof
Good morning,

I read your article in vanguard newspaper and everything the symptom you described there tells what I’m going through, except the feeling of death, I try not to give it attention.

I thought time will heal me but time prolongs the misery. I am 27 years Nigerian. I’ve been in such a mess lately, been living with this for a long time but it gets worse sometimes, each time it feels like I’ll never be who I really want to be.

Right now I feel isolated and a recluse, and when I try to go out and talk, it ends up adding to my misery.

Either I didn’t know what to say or I’m lost trying to say something, like forgetting what I wanted to say.
I don’t know who to reach out to for help, I don’t know if I can afford one.

I wish things are different. Thank you and God bless.

J. J, Lagos

Is memory loss a mental health disorder?

Dear Prof,
I am a 33 years old woman. I have been struggling with memory loss. Sometimes I mix up words.

I may see a fowl and misplace it for a cow. Sometimes, I forget my way even when I am in a familiar place. I also have mood problems. I may be happy now, but within a few hours, my mood will change.

Sometimes everything around me irritates including having my children around.

Does this feeling have anything to do with the mental problem? I need your help.

Henry, Lagos

I am losing my confidence in-crowd, everything

Dear Prof,
Good morning I don’t know what is going on with me being from Jos plateau state capital, my problem is before now I was bold, funny, and representable but now I can’t even be in a crowd so scared of talking, losing confidence on everything.
Being a single man and I always feel guilty even when talking to a kid not to talk of a friend or a lady. most of my friends run away from me because of that attitude.
Please I need your help I have a lot to do in this life am begging you in the name of GOD.

Awal, Jos

Prof Shei.k says: I acknowledge your message and appreciate your reaching out to me for help, please be assured that I’m available to help as you’ve have requested.
Kindly reach me through my WhatsApp line below so we can continue chatting.

Best regards.

Vanguard News Nigeria

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.