Common myths and misconceptions of mental illness (2)

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, prevent mental illness, improve our awareness of mental illness, understand that effective, qualitative and modern (technology based) mental health care services are available in Nigeria and globally to enhance quality living, harmonious interpersonal relationships and peaceful coexistence within our communities. Here is the conclusion of our discussion from last time.

The third common misconception is that mental illness being viewed from a moral perspective, as a personal weakness or lack of self-control; this is not true! I find it necessary to emphasize here that; mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including: Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry. Others are Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse and Family history of mental health problems. People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

4. Another misconception is that mental illness is viewed as a single disorder instead of a group of disorders, such that once an individual is diagnosed with mental ill health, no matter how mild or trivial, it is misconstrued as what meets their narrow definition of mental illness.

Research and clinical practice has demonstrated that there are different faculties of the brain, so also are various types of mental disorders, ranging from mild to moderate and severe forms, it could also range from non-psychotic to psychotic disorders.

The World Health Organization WHO) has a document which has classified mental disorders, it is known as International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the current edition is the 11th edition (ICD-11) and the American equivalent of the classification of mental disorders is the DSM which currently has the 5th edition (DSM-5). All types of mental disorders are contained in these two documents.

5. Mental illness in incurable and lifelong, this is not true! Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and these interventions work! Treatment for mental health problems varies depending on the individual and could include medication, psychotherapy, or both.

Many individuals work with a support system during the healing and recovery process.

6. People with mental health cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job, they can only do low level jobs, and not suited for important and responsible positions; this is not true! People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees.

Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees. When employees with mental health problems receive effective treatment, it can result in lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased disability costs.

7. People with mental illness should be isolated from the community; this is not true! Friends and loved ones can make a big difference. In 2020, only 20 per cent of adults received any mental health treatment in the past year, which included 10 per cent who received counseling or psychotherapy from a professional.

Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need by: Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help, Helping them access mental health services, learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true, treating them with respect, just as you would treat anyone else and refusing to define them by their diagnosis or using labels such as “crazy”, “kolo” etc.

A person with a mental disorder could be helped by being treated with compassion, kindness, and dignity in a clean, comfortable environment that provided freedom of movement, opportunities for occupational and social activity, and reassuring talks. Moral treatment is a therapeutic approach that emphasized character and spiritual development, and calls for kindness on the part of all who came in contact with the patient.

8. Children don’t experience mental health problems; this is not true! Even very young children may show early warning signs of mental health problems. These mental health problems are often clinically diagnosable, and can be a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors.

Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24. Unfortunately, only half of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.

9. Mental health problems don’t affect me; not true! Mental health problems are indeed very common, according to the World Health Organization, one in for persons in the world experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime. One in six persons experienced major depressive episode and one in twenty persons lived with serious mental health disorder.

10. Prevention doesn’t work, it is impossible to prevent mental illnesses; this is not true! There are biological and social determinants of mental illness. Prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders focuses on addressing known risk factors such as exposure to trauma that can affect the chances that children, youth, and young adults will develop mental health problems.

Promoting the social-emotional well-being of children and youth leads to: higher overall productivity, better educational outcomes, lower crime rates, stronger economies, lower health care costs, improved quality of life, increased lifespan and improved family life

Finally, we do know that some health workers manifest negative attitudes of towards mentally ill, this could be considered as reflection of the overall societal attitudes towards persons suffering from mental health disorder. Such negative attitudes include; prejudging the mentally ill, trivialising their treatment, offending them with their attitude and patronising them because of their unconscious belief that they (health worker) are better than them (mentally ill persons).

Recommendations: I consider it as very important and also a matter urgency to address the myths and misconceptions of mental health in Nigeria by increasing sensitization, health education and advocacy activities for mental health (as Vanguard Newspapers are doing currently), this will reduced stigma towards mental ill health, improved access to care and enhance uptake of available mental health care services, and promote holistic care for both mental health and physical health.

Proper integration of mental health into all levels of health care delivery in the country will facilitate openness, improve awareness and reduce mental illness stigma in the country. The passage of the Nigerian Mental Health bill that is before the President and commander in Chief into law and revision of the Nigeria Mental Health Care Service delivery policy will further provide an objective sense of positive direction for mental health activities of the country.

In conclusion therefore, historically negative stereotypes, myths and misconceptions have been associated with mental illness and we can describe such stereotypes as an often unfair and untrue (almost always) beliefs about a group of people with a particular characteristic; a belief about a particular category of people, which could result in generalizing it to every person of that particular group.

Such negative stereotypes often result in stigma, discrimination, and isolation of people with mental illness, as well as their families, relations and even care givers such as the health workers who takes care of the mentally ill persons. Studies have shown that stigmatization of mental illness is a major barrier to uptake of mental health care services in Nigeria.

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