Mental Health: A Need For Awareness

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Mental health problems are on meteoric rise across the globe. I read an interesting article which identified mental health disorders as the fifth leading cause of death and disease worldwide. Interestingly, Nigeria, along with China, North Korea and Japan were the four countries mentioned to have low burden of death and disease from mental disorders.

This could be due to the fact that the average Nigerian mind races to madness (psychosis) probably inflicted on a person by haters from his or her village, when mental health is mentioned. Many fail to realise that alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, sleep issues, emotions such as anxiety and depression, levels of stress, self-harming and suicide are all linked to mental health.

As a result, very few Nigerians pay attention to their mental health. Judging with what is happening right now, one can predict that mental health issues of Nigerians, especially the youths will skyrocket in the next five to ten years. And this should be seen as a major public health concern.

Before you start critiquing this; I am yet to research on this so I have no raw data to back my claims hence this is just an opinion, observation or assertion.

Nigerian youths are faced with numerous problems in our country today. From joblessness (unemployment) through relationship/marriage problems to alcohol and drug abuse etc. And these can do serious damage to one’s mental health.

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First, parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to study and become a doctor, engineer or lawyer. Many may lack the abilities and capabilities required to reach the educational goals set by the parents and in the end, become stressed, anxious and depressed or may resort to drug abuse/alcoholism to take the pain away.

Then, if one scales through these hurdles and graduates, one enthusiastically applies for numerous jobs as many believe their job defines them and earns them respect. If unsuccessful after a long search, one may lose confidence and self-esteem.

Unemployment can take a huge toll on a fresh graduate’s pysche. The stages of unemployment are initial shock, depression and finally adjustment. Depression may cause them to isolate themselves from friends and family.

Next, the never-ending pressure on a young Nigerian lady, from family and society, to marry and have a family. Although many claim unfazed, being single may increase the risk of developing mental health problems in adulthood.

Nevertheless, ending a relationship/marriage through separation, divorce or death may also cause an increased risk of mental health disorders. Relationships are hard-work and often drains one’s emotional energy. People may be happier whilst married or in relationship but the effects on mental health once separated by death or divorce may be far worse than being single.

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It is never easy when a relationship/marriage ends. The breakup can trigger negative emotions, such as sadness, hate, disappointment and depression, which one may never recover from. The more break-ups one has, the more his/her mental health  progressively deteriorates.

Emergence of social media hasn’t helped either; it has increased comparison, cyber-bullying, restlessness, glamorization of sex, drugs and alcohol use and crowd mentality amongst the youths to appear cool. People put more pressure on themselves when they see achievements of others thereby elevating their stress levels, anxiety and depression. If they feel they are falling behind, they may make matters worse by turning to drugs or alcohol.

Mental health issues can prevent one from living his/her dream, starting a family or becoming useful to his nation. And this should be treated as a serious health scare. Mental health awareness should be made to safeguard emotional wellbeing of Nigerian youths.

Thank you for making out time to read this article. If you have enjoyed it, please comment and share your views on this issue. Also, do like, share and follow the blog.

My Child Must Be A…

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Growing up as a Nigerian child can be mentally hard. Pardon me for generalising; Yes! I know Nigeria is enormous with over 250 ethnic groups and I cannot speak for everyone but I have found out that Nigerian children, no matter where they grow up, are raised in similar ways.

I was in South London sometime ago and a Nigerian woman complained bitterly about the academic capabilities of her 6-year old daughter (Yes! You read that right). She feels the daughter isn’t as smart as her peers and this makes her worry. She had already planned that the little girl would be a doctor in future and as a result, she hired a private tutor to teach the child after school hours which means the little girl arrives home at about 5pm every weekday.

Many Nigerian parents, just like the aforementioned lady, put pressure on their children, especially the oldest child, to do well in academics. Infact, they have unrealistic expectations that you must be the best at everything; it is not debatable. Even if you get an A and finish as the second best student, they will probably still ask, “The person that came first, does he/she have three heads?” Thereby making their children too result-oriented.

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It is absolutely of great importance that parents support their kids’ academic pursuit but there is growing concern that Nigerian parents put too much pressure on their kids beyond their capabilities and abilities. Whilst some parents want their kids to study 24 hours of the day (TDB) with minimal or no play time, in hope they will grow to become the next Albert Einstein, others favour and praise the academically sound ones over the poorly academic ones.

Putting children under intense pressure can be devastating to their psychological development. Consequently, they develop a certain type of mentality that makes them believe they are worthless without academic success thus cultivating sibling rivalry.

Some children may also develop perfectionistic traits as they put too much pressure on themselves to please their parents and other family members. In my little experience so far, many believe they are only studying for their parents, not for themselves, but are afraid to voice their opinions. Many struggle to establish autonomy and often succumb to depression, sickness, alcohol and drug abuse, psychosis, emotional trauma, low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence.

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Parenting is hard work; it must be said that parents who put too much pressure on their children never do it with the intention to harm them. Naturally, everyone expects a profitable return on the investments they make and parents are no different. They want to see a return on the investment of money/time that goes into raising their children (school fees are not easy to come by).

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting high targets for your children however when these expectations seem to overhelm them, there is need for us to re-evaluate and soft pedal a little bit. Nigerian parents need to realise that every child is different; some are early developers whilst others are late developers. Also, not all children will be academically sound and the best you can do is to encourage them to be better whilst exploring other talents/skills your kids possess.

Some parents do this because they want their children to achieve more than they did. Recently, psychology experts revealed that parents who put extreme pressure on their children are only trying to live/achieve their failed dreams through their children. This gives them great fulfillment and pride, as some see it as a “straightforward validation of their parenting skills.” Professor Brad Bushman of Ohio State Univerisity, who coauthored the research said, “Parents then may bask in the reflected glory of their children, and lose some of the feelings of regret and disappointment that they couldn’t achieve these same goals.”

Furthermore, the emergence of social media (Facebook, BBM, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram etc) have unintentionally heaped pressure on many to achieve and some extend this pressure to their children. We are always notified about the events in everyone’s lives – especially their achievements so there’s increased pressure on kids to excel academically so parents can secretly boast that they have the best children ever.

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A child should be allowed to follow his/her own path in life, not the path of his or her parents. All he/she needs is parental guidance and support!

Thank you for making out time to read this article. If you have enjoyed it, please comment and share your views on this issue. Also, do like, share and follow the blog.

Hopsital Combat II

The piece which am referring to is a well prepared article by a good author( we all took Mrs. Obiwulu’s English lessons together) and a long time friend. The piece contains a lot of truth which I must say, as a medical doctor by profession, hit the point. But I must beg to differ in some of his opinions because there are obviously two sides to this story, just like a coin.

To start with, I want to make a bold point that we all (I mean doctors, medical laboratory scientists and nurses) all work for a common goal and that is “To care for the sick”.
This “motto” is what should be borne in mind whether you have an MBBS or a Bsc in Medical Laboratory Science or a Diploma or Bsc in Nursing Science.
Everyone knows their role. I must say so because none of these three departments cannot work without the other. As the common Igbo saying goes, “I gaghi aku aku na-agba agba” ,so it is in this situation.

But then I must point out that in every institution, there MUST be a leader otherwise the system will go into anarchy and everything will just be a mere charade. And that leader in this context is the Doctor. It is a well known and incontrovertible fact which is why the Chief Medical Director of any hospital is a doctor. At this point, I must dare to say that most doctors are egotistical, perhaps this is mostly due to the fact that most doctors bearing in mind that “the doctor is the head of the medical team”, take it too far by imposing there authority on others. This, I must say is VERY wrong as it undermines the common goal of the medical team as I have stated above.

Again, I would want to correct the author that it is the Doctors that makes a diagnosis and go further to proffer solutions to the problem. I must make reference to the medical curriculum (3rd MBBS to be more precise), doctors do a full and complete course in pathology which we know is the backbone of all laboratory courses done by the Medical Laboratory Science students. In essence, we are trained to use that knowledge and our clinical skills to come up with a diagnosis. At this point, I must say that the MLScientists still go a lot further to study the technical details in coming up with laboratory results which contribute to the eventual diagnosis. So I think it’s pretty explanatory why a Consultant Pathologist who is a doctor must control the laboratory departments. He is not just a newbie doctor who has passed all his MBBS exams but has gone ahead to obtain a 4 year Fellowship in a specific aspect of pathology.

As I said before, all these don’t matter at all if (and actually if) we have in mind that we are working for the common goal of the patient. Sadly, it is only in Nigeria we have all these problems. Abroad, everyone knows there role and they play it well knowing fully well their target.

In conclusion, I would also, like the author of the original piece and my very good friend, reiterate the Emmy Award winning Peter Dinklage in “The Game of Thrones” as Tyrion ‘the imp’ Lannister:
“Never forget who you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used against you.”

Thank you.
Alex Onyemeh (MD)