Poor sleep, gateway to most mental illnesses

•Substance abuse rampant among youths
•Nigerians to have more children with disabilities

By Ebele Orakpo

IN Nigeria, one out of every four people will have mental illness in their life time. Unfortunately, our society does not talk about mental illness. These were the submissions of Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, Medical Director/Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services and Mrs. Bukky Karibi-Whyte, public relations practitioner and founder, The Bobby Taylor Company and Invicta Africa at the one year anniversary of Douglas Kintsukuroi Foundation (DKF), a non-governmental organisation.

From left: Ms. Blessing Douglas, CEO of Douglas Kintsukuroi Foundation; Dr Maymunah Kadiri and Mrs Bukky Karibi-Whyte, guest speakers at the 1st anniversary of Douglas Kintsukuroi Foundation in Lagos.

Painting a picture of how issues of mental illness are handled in Nigeria and the West, Karibi-Whyte said: “Our society doesn’t talk about mental illness.  In the West, a child could tell his parents he is sad and they will sit down and talk about it and find a solution but in Nigeria, a child tells the parents he is sad and the reaction is: ‘Are you mad? Haven’t you eaten this morning? Will you get out of here?’

“In the West, going to a therapist to talk about issues is common place but here, I don’t know who will boldly go to a psychiatric facility to seek help.”

Psychiatric facility

Kadiri, popularly called the Celebrity Shrink, agrees with Karibi-Whyte, noting that: “We are still at ground zero when it comes to mental health advocacy in Nigeria. The sad fact is that half of mental illnesses start at age 14 and two-thirds by age 25 years. Your physical health is as important as your mental health. In Nigeria, one out of four people will have mental illness in their life time.”

Packaged madness: Kadiri who defined mental health as a state of wellbeing whereby an individual has the ability to realise his potentials in life, deal with day-to-day stressors and hassles of life; work productively and fruitfully and give back to society, said the so-called mad people on the street make up just 1% of those that have mental illness so the 99% are in the society.

“It is called packaged madness. Until you are assessed or evaluated, you may not know you are dealing with mental illness. We want to change the narrative from 1 out of every 4 to 1 out of every 4,000 Nigerians having mental illness in their lifetime,” she said.

Handling stress: Drawing from her experience in the past, Karibi-Whyte who noted that depression and cyber bullying are real, said the threshold for what people could manage is different for each person.

“You and I can go through similar experience and I will come out fine while you are broken. Some depressed people use work to distract themselves; some indulge in substance abuse and some take poison just to get away from what is bothering them.

“I handle depression by immersing myself in my work to distract me from whatever the problem is. I would work from 7.00am and won’t go to bed until 3.00am which was not good at all. It’s better you deal with the problem rather than sweeping it under the carpet.”

She said that life will throw different things at you but you need the right coping mechanism. “Sometimes life throws certain things at you so you can deal with them, survive and tell your story to encourage others going through similar experiences. Millions of people around the world have it worse than you, yet, they are coping and so can you,” she opined.

Substance abuse: “Recent studies have shown that boys and men who take marijuana are likely to have children with autism. We are definitely going to have more children with disabilities in future because the current crop of our youths is abusing substances. Marijuana is top on the list because it is affordable, accessible and available. Others are monkey-tail, shepe, alomo and all manner of substances. In our mental health facility, majority of those below 25 are there  usually due to alcohol and substance abuse. I have issues with private universities because once they detect substance in your system, you are expelled instead of rehabilitation. I believe random drug screening should be the order of the day. A final-year student who is expelled from the university will not go back to school. Some will infiltrate other schools and try to bring other students down,” said Kadiri.

“People actually go to a pit latrine to sniff the fumes, some collect cobwebs from uncompleted buildings, soak them in water and drink the water, some sniff glue and petrol mixed with Chelsea dry gin, some take cough syrup with codeine. There are so many substances that people abuse,” she said, advising the youths to constantly and deliberately develop themselves and never be idle nor let what people say affect them.

Causes of depression: Kadiri noted that certain factors predispose people to depression while it may be precipitated by certain factors in others. Gateway to most mental illnesses is poor sleep.

She said one may not be predisposed eg may not have come from a home where there is domestic violence, sexual abuse or dysfunctional family setting but something may precipitate it and cause the person to break down.

Symptoms of depression: “When you are sad for a day or two, it’s no issue but if you are sad persistently for two weeks minimum, it’s depression.

If before the two weeks are over, you see yourself crying over things that ordinarily should not make you cry; your energy level goes down completely; you lose interest in things you ordinarily love to do; you don’t want to interact, then watch out, it could be depression. There are also numerous minor symptoms including emotional eating. You overeat, especially sugary stuff and oversleep just to wish away depression but you cannot wish it away.

Tips for survival: The speakers agreed on the need for individuals to know themselves, have self-worth, have adequate rest and sleep and never hesitate to seek help from professionals or those they trust. “Learn to be communal. If you see somebody’s child misbehaving, try and correct him. Today, a lot of people are stressed, angry, bitter, the anxiety level is high.

“Know yourself and your family history. Is there anyone in your family who has had mental illness? If yes, you have to deliberately and consciously take measures to ensure your sanity. Don’t ever try to please somebody while punishing yourself. Don’t be a people pleaser, it’s not good for your mental health,” advised Kadiri.

Said Karibi-Whyte: “Don’t keep everything to yourself; know that whatever you are dealing with in your life, other people have dealt with it. Find solutions before the problems arise. Have plans A, B and C. Above all, believe in a higher power. Have your quiet time, prayers etc.”

Underprivileged women

In her opening remarks, Ms.  Douglas said in its short history, DKF which was set up with a vision to rescue children aged 10-24, especially those from broken homes, orphans, vulnerable and underprivileged caught in self- victimization, depression, abuse, neglect and all forms of mental illnesses, has been able to equip underprivileged women and child brides with skills like tailoring, catering etc and afterwards, raised funds for them to do something for themselves. “We have been able to help women and many child-brides. After I graduated from the American University of Nigeria, I left Yola for Lagos for the national youth service and felt the struggle must continue.

“As long as I live and wherever I find myself, DKF will continue to reach out to people. We are here to advise, prepare, empathise and empower.” She noted that Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF) so common among child-brides, doesn’t kill as fast as the stigmatization that goes with it.

The event which was sponsored by Saduwa, Africa’s first Afrocentric social network, had as theme: Surviving the times: Mental wellness and relationships.

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