OPINION PIECE: MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA IS THE PRODUCT OF A CRIMINAL ANCESTRAL NEGLECT AND OUR PARENTS AND THEIR PARENTS BEFORE THEM, SHOULD BE ASHAMED.
With the passing years come innovations and amazing discoveries in health that keep us in awe; the new age is here and we absolutely have our ancestors to thank, and why not?! This also counts as their victory, after all, they laid the foundation for these possibilities.
Research into vaccines, gene splicing, minimal access surgical techniques, and even curative medication has prospered and research proves that our overall help seeking habit has improved. Kudos!
But just as we owe them our gratitude for these many successes (and we really do), they are also entitled to blames for their failures to recognize the dangers of neglecting their mental health.
Granted, the brain is a complex structure,
which lets us perceive, understand and try to shape our world.
Given its importance, any deviation from normal function should have been seen as a priority and not muddled with fear of stigma, but treated with the respect it deserves like malfunction seen in every other major body organ.
In Nigeria, Mental illnesses are said to affect a range of 20 million — 60 million people; a good number of which have suffered significant impairment due largely to ignorance, stigma and neglect. Let’s not talk about the possible and immeasurable impact of this burden on various families and their sustainability, overall individual functional ability and productivity level needed for economic growth.
Considering the above, you would be right to assume that this is an issue that the country would have taken very serious, but that assumption would be wrong.
What then is the problem?
There’s the realization that our ancestors’ view mental illness
as more of a spiritual retribution/demonic possession/sign of a lack of connection
with a Supreme being; not ruling out the added role of cultural perception —
we have roadblocks in stacks and we didn’t build them — we met them here.
The concept of mental illness and hence its treatment has been belittled by the notion that the ill person has a weak mind, has made poor life choices or is possessed by a raving demon and therefore has to receive their remedy via traditional methods (cultural), from deliverance by a spiritual leader or just by ignoring them to “find their path” or blessing them with the usual “get over it” nugget.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to an obvious mismatch between the crippling impact of mental illness and addiction and our overall commitment to addressing these issues today. From my experience being a counselor for a distress hotline, I’ve come to learn how wide this gap this is, as at least 90% of the young people we have encountered, have parents who are unwilling to let them get orthodox treatment, but will readily cart them away to prayer houses for weeks and quite a lot of times, against their will.
It is therefore not surprising that you will readily find these prayer houses cum asylums closer to your residence and easier to get access to than an actual mental health facility, and why not, it’s a valid thriving business which promises cure (who wouldn’t like the idea of a cure for an illness they are ashamed of?)
We have been able to create the disconnect between “Mental” and “Illness”;
where the former is seen as a direct opposite rather than an association of the latter —
Mental/Mad/Violent/crazy/Kolo Versus Illness/Malaria/Fever/Headache/Diabetes/Cancer.
— Victor Ugo
This has led to a neglect which I consider to be criminal (and this is a global problem), of research into the mind, it’s ailments and even possibly, their cures.
Our parents defined health (physical, mental and social well-being) but found a way to banish the Mental component and turn it into something we should be ashamed of. So, if they must claim their roles in our successes and advancements in health, then they must also acknowledge their continuing failure to help fix an issue that they have let get out of hand.
It shouldn’t have to take a genius to realize that the brain being a human organ, will also be prone to dysfunctions just like all the other major organs, especially if we don’t care for it like we do the others as well (hence the disparity between physical and mental hygiene).
“My hope and the reason I still fight is that in the future, we can effectively address mental health issues as we do cardiac arrests.”
Dr Victor Ugo