Mental Health Issue, The African Perspective!

Mental Health Issue, The African Perspective!

When mental health Issues and conversation are brought up in most places in Africa,The atmosphere changes, No one wants to be Identified as being depressed, sad,  “crazy” or in extreme situations “Tagged mad”. Well, except when used as a joke among people to underscore the main aim of mental health awareness. We have on several occasions listened to an insensitive joke that says you can’t be a Nigerian and be depressed. Well, they claim it’s not written in our constitutution, so you just have to deal with it. 

On a general note, everyone is assumed to be mentally healthy, yet suicide rates keeps rising and so many people are plagued with one mental health issue or the other. Our African societies are not very knowledgeable, open, or supportive about mental health issues,they for example believe that being depressed is a “ white man’s illness” , it’s not something to be treated with much significance,you don’t need a therapist,you just have to “pray” it away. 

On some very rare occasion, you’ll be lucky to have a listening ear, not a therapist by the way, that would be to the extreme, I mean it’s not as if you’ve being diagnosed of a life threatening disease! 

Among the typical African manual is the fact that you don’t have it worse, someone, somewher, is battling with a much more greater struggle, therefore you’ll be forced to be grateful, to deal with it, to bottle up, to be a man. 

Mental health is the level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the state of someone who is “functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment” . 

According to WHO; Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. They further reiterate that mental health includes “subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others. 

In African countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa triggers of mental illness Includes stress,  unemployment and violent crime which are at critically high levels. The mental health picture is far worse in poorer countries, especially those that have recently experienced civil wars and conflicts, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

Sierra Leone was a mental health pioneer in Africa. The British established the Kissy Mental Home (now Kissy National Referral Psychiatric Hospital) more than 100 years ago, describing it in an inscription as the “Royal Hospital and Asylum for Africans Rescued from Slavery by British Valour and Philanthropy”. A place of confinement for traumatised freed slaves repatriated by British abolitionists, it was sub-Saharan Africa’s first, and for many decades only, Western-style mental hospital. It remains Sierra Leone’s only psychiatric hospital. There were a total of 104 patients at the hospital in 2015, of which 75 were men. Most of them were 40 years old or below. Patients live in deplorable conditions, and several of them wear chains. 

The WHO estimates that fewer than 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to a psychiatrist or health worker, because there are only 130 psychiatrists in the country of 174 million people. WHO estimates that the number of mentally ill Nigerians ranges from 40 million to 60 million. Disorders like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are common in Nigeria, as in other countries in Africa.  Mental health problems appear to be increasing in importance in Africa. Between 2000 and 2015 the continent’s population grew by 49%, yet the number of years lost to disability as a result of mental and substance use disorders increased by 52%. In 2015, 17·9 million years were lost to disability as a consequence of mental health problems. Such disorders were as important a cause of years lost to disability as were infectious and parasitic diseases, which accounted for 18·5 million years lost to disability .  People with mental health Issues  in Africa are often opened to  social stigma and discrimination.  The society in general has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. Many people believe that people with mental ill health are violent and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people. 

Among the solutions to the aforementioned position of Africa in mental health issues is that there should be a general agreement that mental health services should be integrated in primary health care. A critical issue for success of this model is perceived to be provision of appropriate supervision and continuing education for primary health care workers. The importance of collaboration between modern medicine and traditional healers is stressed and a plea for WHO to take the initiative and develop mental health services according to the special needs and the socio-cultural conditions prevailing in Africa. 

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