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MAKING IT BETTER: Does Mental Health mean madness to you?

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Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Ok, let’s keep it real now. Be honest, what was/is your gut feeling/reaction when you see or hear these words, Mental Health. Does your stomach turn? do you cringe, turn away, disassociate from it? Do you immediately think it has nothing to do with you? It’s something that happens to others? Do you think it only applies to people with serious problems or those who have had some ‘hex’ put on them? Or to go a step further does it conjure up images of unstable, disturbed people? Or let’s go all the way, does the mention of mental health for you still represent the  psychotic, naked man running around on the streets?. Maybe it’s not even something you have really given any thought to.Trust me, if you can relate to any of the options mentioned above, you are not alone and much as I am tempted from where I am now professionally to say shame on you for thinking like that, I know once upon a time I did too! After all, that’s how we were socialised and what we were brought up to believe. The same way people with physical disabilities are invisible in our society, those with any identifiable mental ill health actually don’t even exist as far as we are concerned!

Mental health symbol conceptual design isolated on white background

Thankfully there are some of us enlightened enough to understand that you don’t have to be MAD to suffer mental health difficulties. The truth of the matter is that mental health is on a continuum and we all fit (sometimes precariously) somewhere on that line. We tend to go back and forth on that line throughout the course of our lives. Sometimes if we have sufficient self-awareness we might be cognisant of where we reside on that line. However, for the most part, a large number of us haven’t a clue of how dangerously close to the edge we are. If only we knew, it would scare the living daylights out of us! But in reality, many of us are depressed, some more seriously than others.

There are days when I have felt so stressed with my circumstances or with  life that I have literarily been numb. I have had friends, colleagues who, after telling me what they were feeling on a daily basis, I wanted to tell them that they were on the verge of losing their minds! Fortunately, most of us may be blessed enough to have loving families, friends, and other things in their lives that help to pull us back from the brink and we recover, stabilise and get on with our next tasks. But for some, the process is not as smooth as that. We may not have words to define or explain the specific behaviour we are exhibiting, or we may actually think we are behaving ‘normally’, but we may be mistaken. Sometimes when we don’t or can’t cope with our emotions we end up’acting out’. It may be overeating, engaging in excessive retail therapy, being promiscuous and other ‘self-harming behaviour’ that we have learnt to take for granted.

For some of us, these feelings can fester and the dis-ease we feel within ourselves can lead to depression. There are many of us who are functioning depressives. Women tend to suffer from a wide range of depression, many of which go unidentified, undiagnosed, subsequently untreated and wreak havoc in our daily lives. Let me reiterate it doesn’t mean you are mad! Mental health problems can be insidious and creep up on you if you are not paying attention.
I have been a columnist with The Punch newspaper in Nigeria for over five years, writing on mental health issues. When I first started writing for Punch, I never expected to last more than six months at best. On a visit to Nigeria, I had first mentioned the idea of writing on mental health issues to another publication to which I was quickly rebuffed and advised that I would do better to consider using more acceptable terminology such as ‘well-being’, ‘good health’, something less in your face than’ mental health’. I thought at the time wow! so we can’t mention the elephant in the room? Its so taboo it cannot be named?. Well, that didn’t sit well with me and I knew I wasn’t going to be part of this attitude of ‘let’s not call its name and it will go away’.

I felt as people we needed to understand about our mental health and not be afraid of it. I have always felt irritated when I read about projects for ‘women’s health’, and the various conditions would be identified, but mental health mostly was absent, even though people would say it is implied. Domestic violence would be mentioned, but not women’s mental health. I always found this deeply worrying. It felt as if the treatment of mental health publicly was how it was treated privately, in other words; denied, rejected and ignored. But guess what? its real, active, in your face, up close and personal! We are all dealing with some level of mental health issues within ourselves, within our families and definitely within the wider community. (and it doesn’t mean you are mad!.)

Fortunately, when I approached Punch, the publisher was receptive and gave me a free hand. I considered him in that singular act to represent a male feminist( I’m not sure he will thank me for calling him that!). Five years down the line I am still writing a weekly column, exploring issues around mental health. I was pleasantly surprised at the interest that was sparked in the readers. The questions kept coming thick and fast, the disclosures of very personal and painful experiences were shared every week and even more satisfying, the numbers of letters from mail readers increased weekly.

I hope we can explore many of those same issues in this forum. The greatest success of my column has been in providing a safe space for readers to explore issues around mental health and reduce feelings of isolation and raise as much awareness as possible. We cannot be afraid to talk about our mental health, we do so at our own peril!.

Gloria is a columnist with Punch Newspapers, she writes on mental health issues. She is a Life Coach, Psychotherapist, Spiritual Counsellor and Ordained Minister

Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks again Gloria, I think it is good to discuss our mental health issues. We would all have realized that people who amass wealth that they do not need have mental health issues. A right reaction to them would probably help cure them.
    Also where there is awareness, we would consider stress elimination as much as possible in the facilities we provide.
    I look forward to more from you every week.

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