Mental health is simply our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, including how we think, feel, and act.
Although this topic has, over the years, become more popular, there are still several misconceptions and myths around it that promote stereotypes in Nigeria. This article highlights some of these misconceptions and states the facts.
Myth 1: Mental health issues are not common
According to Devora Kestel, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use in the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Report 2022, mental health conditions are common in all countries. Still, in most societies, health and social systems neglect it.
The Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, in Lagos State, according to a report by Punch, attended to 77,071 psychiatric patients at various outpatient pharmaceutical service points in the hospital in 2022. This is just from one state.
In 2019, the WHO revealed that one in every eight people in the world lives with a mental disorder.
In 2019, a news report identified that Nigeria has a mental health challenge as the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Yaba experienced a 22 per cent increase in new patients. The report revealed that one in four Nigerians suffer from mental illness, but help is inadequate due to small budgets and a lack of skilled staff.
Also, in a 2016 report by WHO on Suicide in the World, Nigeria had the highest suicide rate, with 17,710 suicides of all ages.
A Psychologist, lecturer and founder of the Psychebabble Foundation, Sandra Anyahaebi, also confirmed the report on the percentage increase in Yaba and revealed a 50% increase in the number of patients struggling with substance abuse.
According to a 2016 study, Nigeria has the highest number of depressed people in Africa, with over 7 million out of the 29.19 million depressed people in Africa.
Myth 2: Mental health issues can’t affect me
Depending on different factors, anyone can experience a mental health disorder. The WHO’s Fact Sheet on mental health notes that a diverse set of individual, family, community, and structural factors can combine to protect or undermine a person’s mental health.
While some people are more resilient to these factors, people exposed to adverse circumstances like poverty, violence, disability, and inequality are at higher risk. Individual psychological and biological factors, such as emotional skills and genetics, also reduce or increase risk factors.
Myth 3: People with Mental health issues are violent or mad
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed some warning signs for mental illness, and none of it includes violence or madness.
Although Ms Anyahaebi agreed that people with mental health illnesses can sometimes exhibit violent behaviours, she said they are not always violent.
“Individuals with mental health issues may exhibit symptoms of violence or aggressive behaviour, but that is when they are experiencing an episode, not literally all the time.
“When you say ‘mad,’ it is derogatory and stigmatising, so we don’t use that anymore in the mental health field to refer to a mental illness or condition because it makes people not want to seek help or speak out,” she added.
In a report by Cable in 2022, the president of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), Taiwo Obindo, revealed more than 60 million Nigerians are suffering from mental illnesses, but that does not mean they are “mad”.
An article by Better Health, a website managed by the state government Department of Health in Victoria, Australia, revealed that psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia can sometimes be associated with aggressive or violent behaviour.
However, people living with schizophrenia are no more violent or dangerous than the rest of the population if they are receiving effective treatment and not misusing alcohol or drugs.
These people, the article noted, are more likely to express their aggression, agitation or frustration towards themselves or to family and friends, not strangers.
The article also identified some triggers for people with this condition. These triggers include; ineffective treatment, a patient with a previous history of violence, misuse of alcohol or other drugs, fear, experiencing psychotic symptoms for the first time, or unfamiliar experiences.
Myth 4: Panic attacks can be fatal.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines panic attacks as intense fear and anxiety that happens if/when people feel anxious about something happening or experience a difficult or stressful situation.
An article by Medical News Today noted that panic attacks can be scary but not fatal. However, there might be long-term health complications, as revealed by this 2005 study. The study suggested that panic attacks may worsen heart problems in people with coronary heart disease (CHD).
The founder of the Psychebabble Foundation also said that panic attacks are not fatal except if the victim has other underlying conditions.
“Panic attacks are not fatal, although when a person is experiencing a panic attack, it feels like they are going to die, it feels that way, but in reality, they are not fatal and can’t kill you. Panic attacks alone can’t kill you except the person has preexisting conditions that are somehow showing up.”
Myth 5: Children don’t experience mental health issues
According to the WHO, around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide as the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. Also, the APA reveals that 50% of mental illness begins by age 14.
Myth 6: People with mental health issues can’t keep a job or live normal lives
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), mental illness is not an obstacle to employment; it is correlated with success in certain professions.
NAMI also noted that several employment support programs that help people with mental health illnesses get and keep jobs prove that people with these issues can keep a job.
The Academy of Management Insights journal shows how bipolar disorder overlaps with entrepreneurship.
Ms Anyahaebi agreed that this assertion is false as she knew several persons with diagnosed mental health conditions are still hitting their career goals.
“I know people who are CEOs and have been diagnosed with mental health disorders. I know people at the top management level who have been diagnosed with one mental health condition or another. So it comes back to our culture and society,” she explained.
Myth 7: People with mental health issues are weak or lack willpower
An article by UNICEF debunking several myths about mental health noted that a mental health condition has nothing to do with being weak or lacking willpower.
Ms Anyahaebi agreed with UNICEF’s stand stating that people with mental health are not weak.
Myth 8: Mental health issues are permanent
While some mental health issues like Schizophrenia do not have a cure, Ms Anyahaebi said it does not mean they are permanent.
“I would say no because there are some mental health issues that do not have a cure, things like schizophrenia and the like. However, she explained that many mental health-related concerns or mental health issues have management tips and treatment options, but some mental health disorders do not have a cure,” she explained.
According to the Agape Treatment Centre, there’s no cure for mental illness, but many effective treatments exist. The centre also added that people with mental illnesses can recover and live long and healthy lives like others with diabetes.
Myth 9: Therapy is a waste of time
Recommended mental health treatments include psychotherapy, medication, hospitalisation, support Group, complementary and alternative medicine, self-help plans and peer support.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) noted that treatment for mental health conditions varies depending on the individual. It is important to note that many people do best when working with a support system during healing and recovery.
The Psychebabble Foundation founder disagreed with the assertion that therapy is not a waste of time.
Myth 10: People with mental health issues are “possessed”.
A complex interplay of individual, social and structural stresses and vulnerabilities determines your mental health. For example, people’s individual psychological and biological factors, such as emotional skills, substance use and genetics, can make people more vulnerable to mental health conditions.
The Psychebabble Foundation founder, Ms Anyahaebi, said if you can’t call someone with fibroid or an injury possessed, then a person with mental health issues is not possessed.
“No. Would you say someone with a fibroid or an injury on the hand that got infected and they have to amputate is possessed? No.
“A person with a mental health disorder is not possessed. As we have identified above, there are a lot of contributing factors to mental health issues.”
Mental health issues are common and should be taken seriously by everyone. If you or anyone you know suffers from mental health conditions, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Different organisations in Nigeria provide assistance, including Mental Health Foundation Nigeria, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative, and the Psychebabble Foundation.