Have you ever wondered what causes people to behave impulsively, have mood swings, be unusually moody or even have character traits that may seem anti-social? Most of us would associate such behaviors to a person’s upbringing, character etc. We would consider such people as those who did not receive a good upbringing or who are generally bad in nature. But is this really true? Are there people who are generally bad in nature? I believe not. in the African context, we are groomed to believe that a person’s behavior is shaped by how they were brought up and their relationship with the Creator, but how do you judge the behavior of a child who was raped at an early age? Will you judge her behavior viz a viz how she was brought up or rather by the circumstances surrounding her life?
I believe behavior and character are shaped by the mental faculties that are in control of a person’s body right from birth. A child can have an unhealthy mental state from a young age because of circumstances be it biological, environmental or even genetic but because of traditions and beliefs we fail to realize it. We destroy our lives because we choose the easy way out, “I was bewitched, its the work of Satan etc.” We run away from the realities of our mental health that are right in front of us and blame it on things that we cannot even see because that’s human nature, avoidance and making up excuses so that it becomes easy for us. But don’t you think it’s high time we face the reality that most of us may be in some way suffering from a mental disorder?
What is mental health?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.This definition points out that mental health in general affects our emotions, psychology as well as social behavior. Whether we like it or not this aspect of health has a very huge impact on the person as a whole and it can actually affect one’s physical health if not handled properly. Mental health is the most important part of our health that we should be very careful not to neglect.
Types of mental health.
Most people think that a mentally unstable person is a ” crazy ” person and this in all respects is very wrong. Mentally unstable people are not all crazy as believed by some and it is because of this factually wrong belief that most of us actually experience mental disorders unaware and usually just associate it with the physical when in actual fact its a mental problem that does not require pills but rather therapy or psychiatric help. Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.So instead of just associating mental disorders with crazy persons, we should look at it from a broader perspective and understand what it really entails.
There are about seven types of mental disorders give or take two. All these have different effects on people and also have different causes therein;
This is a type of mental disorder that is characterized by feelings of fear, unease and dread. This type of disorder can cause you to be restless, have a rapid heartbeat and also may make you sweaty. Anxiety is normal to everyone and can be a result of stress or pressure exerted on a person. However if it becomes a disorder it doesn’t easily go away as normal anxiety does, it is more permanent if not handled or treated by professionals. Anxiety disorder is further classified into three categories;
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is where one is anxious about ordinary things such as finances, family, friends or events that may be coming up. What makes it a disorder is that instead of them worrying for a short time, people with GAD can be anxious about theses issues for an extended period of time, one which any ordinary person may consider irrational for example a whole year and this will in turn affect their normal behavior.
Panic disorder. People in this group of anxiety disorder suffer from panic attacks even where there is little or no fear. The episodes of fear can come unexpectedly and last for several minutes.
Phobias. This category has people who have fear of things that posses little or no danger at all for instance a fly or a spider. They may also have a fear of public gatherings or crowded places and this is known as social anxiety.
So basically a person suffering from anxiety disorder may fall under these three categories and exhibit symptoms like anxious thoughts or belies that are hard to control, uneasiness, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, unexpected aches and pains as well as shortness of breath.
This is also another serious mental disorder problem which affects one both physically and mentally. Eating disorder is when one eats food either excessively or in very little amounts for various reasons. To most people it may seem like a choice but it is actually the body’s mental reaction to something. It is classified into three categories which include;
Binge-eating. People with binge-eating disorder usually find it difficult to control their intake of food and as such continue to eat even after they are full. Usually after this, they may feel guilt, shame or distress because of their behavior. Such people usually suffer from obesity which is also a health hazard.
Bulimia nervosa. People in this category have episodes of binge eating and afterwards force themselves to throw up. They may also over-exercise or fast probably trying to maintain their body weight. Such people are usually underweight or slightly overweight.
Anorexia nervosa. People with this type restrict themselves entirely from food or eat very little amounts. They may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. This type of eating disorder though the least common of all three eating disorders is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all mental disorders as it has the highest mortality rate.
Generally eating disorders may be caused by dissatisfaction with one’s body or stress which forces a person to consume excess food. The symptoms to this are fairly easy to spot. They include excessive eating, fast eating, forcing oneself to throw up, swollen salivary gland in the neck or jaws, not eating at all and fear of gaining weight.
A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. Such people find it very difficult to maintain relationships, make friends or interact with others well. Personality disorder patterns are behavior patterns developed over a long period of time that actually divert from what is expected by society or culture or generally acceptable human behavior. It is branched into many different categories all of which affect one’s way of thinking about oneself and others, way of responding emotionally, way of relating to other people and way of controlling one’s behavior.
Antisocial personality behavior.A pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, or may act impulsively.
Avoidant personality disorder.People with this problem are extremely shy and are sensitive to criticism and rejection. They avoid socializing unless they are certain of being liked and are more concerned with how people view them. They generally feel like they are not good enough.
Borderline personality disorder: These people are very unstable in personal relationships. They try by all means to avoid abandonment, they have intense emotions, anger outbursts and are prone to suicide attempts. They generally have a poor self image and feel empty.
Dependent personality disorder:These people have a tendency to wanting to be taken care of by others and are very clingy and possessive.They find it difficult to be independent in anything.
Histrionic personality disorder. These people have a need to be the center of attraction and have intense emotions. They feel very uncomfortable when they are not getting attention and therefore try anything to get it.
Narcissistic personality disorder. Such people have a need to be admired by others and find it difficult to empathize.They are very self centered and take advantage of others.
These are some of the types of personality disorders that people may suffer from and symptoms of personality disorder include impulsive or risky behavior, unhealthy relationships, low self esteem, suicidal behavior and mood swings among others.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
This is a mental disorder caused when a person goes through a life threatening event or an event that traumatizes them e.g a natural disaster, a severe accident and sometimes a less life threatening event like death of a loved one, heartbreaks etc. Although it is normal to have feelings of fear shortly after or during a traumatic event, people with PTSD usually take longer to recover from this fear and usually need professional help to be able to heal.
Symptoms of PTSD include being jittery and always on the look out for trouble, feelings of guilt and blame, trouble remembering important events of the traumatic event, flashbacks of the event, trouble sleeping or having nightmares, avoiding things that may trigger or remind you of that event etc. It only becomes a disorder when these symptoms last longer than four weeks at whatever stage of your life they surface because its not always certain that they will come soon after the event. Some may come later on in life.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. It is a disorder of the brain hat affects your daily life, a feeling of sadness that persists and becomes a part of your everyday life. It is more common in teens and women but everyone else can get it. The causes include abuse, personal problems, loss/death, major events and serious illness among others. Depression is an example of a bipolar disorder where a person suffers from intense and abrupt mood changes.
Symptoms of depression include sadness, overeating or not eating at all, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in everyday activities, body aches and pains ( headache, cramps) and lack of sleep among others.
These are very serious mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking in people and makes them lose touch with reality. The most common type of psychotic disorder is Schizophrenia. Here a person suffers hallucinations, delusions and changes in behavior and this usually lasts longer than six months.
These disorders are caused by a lot of things which include drug abuse or use, trauma or head injuries, genetics and some illnesses like HIV. The symptoms include hallucinations, delusions that is false perception in hearing, seeing and feeling as well as false beliefs such as receiving secret messages from a picture. People with this mental disorder are usually hospitalized especially if they are a danger to themselves and also to others in society.
Generally mental disorders are caused by family genes or history, life experiences that may have evoked stress, fear, trauma especially during one’s childhood, biological make up i.e chemical imbalances in a person’s body, a severe medical condition in the brain or critical illnesses like cancer and also having few friends this is especially true for young children and teens. They affect a person socially as they may lead one to behave in strange or negative ways that affect their social relations and others around them. Mental disorders affect behavior, relationships,focus and concentration, eating patterns and generally how we relate with others. They are however treatable using psychotherapy at family level or as an individual, pills such as antidepressants, support groups,Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for stress relief,ECT or other brain stimulation therapy etc.
Most of the time it is not by choice that people get these disorders and it is not everyone who has them that actually knows that they do. Some of them develop into “characters” that we become accustomed to and as such would never think of it as an illness. At times we confuse the symptoms to be the real diseases and as such get treatment for the wrong thing and when the medicine doesn’t work some of our African counterparts may conclude that its witchcraft. These are some of the reasons why people actually don’t acknowledge the existence of mental disorders and as such they end up making costly mistakes be it at work, in relationships, in families and even in their own personal lives, mistakes that could have been avoided had they considered the possibility that they are actually suffering from a health problem that can be treated.
Mental health is an integral part of us. It shapes people in a society and allows for a peaceful society therein. It is therefore very important that the health service focuses more on educating people on this and also providing adequate treatment facilities for these especially the system in Africa In as much as superstitions may play a role in affecting people , we should strive to make people understand that mental health firstly is not only limited to psychosis, it is very broad and secondly that it is not always caused by supernatural things or things in realms beyond our sight. Mental health is a normal condition that anyone can suffer from whether they are aware or not. So let’s invest in a better society by giving due regard to the mental well being of ourselves and each other so that we build a better world, safe and peaceful.