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The Fragility of our Mental Health…Are we really Paying Attention?

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Monday, July 11th, 2016
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The world of mental health is as mysterious as it is fascinating. It is often misunderstood, feared, maligned, misjudged and sadly in many cases simply ignored. Even in the developed western world there is still a lot of stigma attached to it albeit there is more willingness to talk about it and engage with the complexities of it. Having said that, recent events in the US, tells us people are not coping well with their stress levels and things are spinning out of control.

For countries where the issue of mental health is ignored or it is explained through irrational ideas and mythical concepts, there is a greater danger for the citizens. The continent of Africa in general is guilty of that and Nigeria in particular is a country that practices this ignorance at its peril.

The full extent of the fragility, strength, capacity, of our mental health differs from person to person, depending on a myriad of reasons including constitution, genetics, environment (nature and nature). Across the globe, women’s mental health has always been a cause for concern but in developing countries there is even more cause for concern. Above Whispers has regularly highlighted this topic which is to be applauded as it cannot be emphasised enough.

We are surrounded by overwhelming evidence of the pressures affecting the mental health of both men and women in Nigeria, as well as how this is evidenced by behaviours and illness. You just have to pick up any of the dailies and the stories will give you some incline of how unhealthily people are trying to cope with chronic stress. Some of the stories of human behaviour is so bizarre, you would be forgiven to think it came out of a horror movie or a cartoon segment; but it is not fiction, these are real people living unimaginable realities.

I was once acused by a reader (not on this site I should add), of using Eurocentric lenses to assess African behaviour. I thought the reader was delusional particularly because mental health is  universal and it does not discriminate in terms of its impact. Sometimes due to cultural attitudes, some basic mental health needs are overlooked which can lead to more serious problems.

A couple of  weeks ago there was a shocking story circulating in the press about a young woman who cut off the penis of her step son (an infant) in a desperate act to express her distress. At first glance the public outrage screamed she was a witch, evil, wicked, the usual offerings all of which was the normal way people try to make sense of something too terrible to comprehend.

If we look a bit closer at the information that was given about this young woman (22yrs old), we might unearth something more profound. She had been unable to conceive for the seven years she had been married to her husband and out of frustration and I am sure family pressure, he was forced to take on a second wife who subsequently gave him a child.

The first problem with this story is the fact that if this young woman had been married for seven years and she is 22 now, it means she was 15 when she was made to marry. This means she was a child! This is hugely problematic because we are starting from a position that she was violated as a child. It is no stretch of the imagination that the husband was not 15 when they married. He would in all likelihood be much older. This young woman spoke of being ridiculed and abused by the new wife for being unable to conceive. It is very likely her husband’s family were equally hostile to her and her own family might not have offered her the support she needed.

Her inability to conceive could very well have just been situational, as a result of her levels of stress or her reproductive parts having been traumatised for being interfered with so young. Her husband claimed he had no knowledge of any problems between the two women and he proudly stated that his home was intact and all was well. This attitude of denial on his part is probably a representation of how her life and reality was also made invisible.

Her husband further went on to say there was nothing wrong with her mental health which was echoed by other family members. On some level she stands a better chance of healing by this awful act of violence because she expressed her level of distress. Unlike the family who are in an utter state of denial and delusion if they think her behaviour does not stem from an unhealthy mind.

There are several stories of other women lopping off male genitalia in desperate acts of moments of insanity. These behaviours have almost become the order of the day and we have become desensitised to it, the same way we have become so used to reading about the hundreds of cases of men murdering their wives on a daily basis.

It is not rocket science to recognise that these behaviours are indications of people unable to manage very difficult stress levels and possibly other more serious psychological problems such as clinical depression. It is too easy to leap for the non helpful ‘witch’ accusations which encourages society to abdicate its culpabilities and responsibilities. The problems are then perpetuated and the casualties and carnage continue to pile up.

When people are overwhelmed with stress and it becomes chronic, it can result in a number of problems. The physical manifestation is a little more clearer, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, strokes, ulcers, high cholesterol all of which can lead to death. The psychological problems are much more complex and long standing and more deadly because it is so deeply misunderstood and people are less likely to identify it appropriately.

There is a certain level of disassociation that takes place in the mind of a person who commits the kind of inhumane acts of cutting off a child’s penis, to the butchering of human beings that has been occurring in the North of Nigeria, to the horrendous murdering of women by their husbands, to the complete lack of compassion that people employ in dealing with one another on a daily basis. You cannot allow yourself to connect with the behaviour because the behaviour has become how you cope with unbearable mental pain that you don’t understand yourself so are unable to manage and diffuse in any healthy way.

Our children are also suffering because they are unable to get the parental and societal guidance they need to negotiate their way in this very schizophrenic world hijacked by social media, that we live in now. Our young people are almost living and behaving like feral kids with a lack of moral compass. We all have work to do with our kids, with one another, as a society. At the very least let us keep the conversation going. The one thing I have learnt from this work is that the more you communicate the better the chances you will reach one person and make a difference in their lives.

Love, Peace and Blessings be upon you.


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