What is good mental health?

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing…” But what does mental health mean? Good mental health includes the ability to:

Make the most of your potential
Cope with normal stresses of life
Play a full part in your family, workplace, community, and among friends
It is also referred to as ‘emotional health’ or ‘wellbeing’. Mental health is everyone’s business. We all have times when we feel down, stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings last for a short while and then disappear. But sometimes, they may develop into a more serious problem, and this could happen to any one of us. It is also important to appreciate that our mental health is never a straight line or a constant. It fluctuates all the time, partly as a result of external events and circumstances around us. Otherwise, we would be robots without feelings.

Everyone is different. Our abilities, temperament, attitude and personalities may be strengths for us in some circumstances; and at other times, they can make us vulnerable. Our resilience (ability to withstand negative events/challenges or difficult circumstances) also differ from person to person. You may bounce back from a setback, while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time and may become overwhelmed by it all.

So from the foregoing, it should be clear that each and every one of us may suffer from mental health problems from time to time – episodes when you are unhappy/miserable/unable to concentrate at work, within family relationships or unable to enjoy social relationships e.t.c. However, this does not mean that we all automatically have mental health disorders on account of these problems. The line between normal challenges of life which may cause stress and anxiety, and what would qualify as mental disorders is usually a function of three things:

i). Severity

ii). Duration of symptoms and

iii). Impairment of functioning at home, work and social relationships

We will now respond to a few questions from our readers.

Q: How common are mental disorders? Is the current economic problems in Nigeria not going to increase the number of mentally unstable people?

A: Lifetime prevalence: 1 in every 4 persons (would experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime). This means that for Nigeria, using an estimated population of 200 million, 50 million Nigerians would at some point in their life, experience mental health problems.

Point prevalence: 1 in every 10 persons (would be experiencing a mental health problem at any given point in time). Again, using Nigeria’s population estimates, this would imply that 20 million Nigerians are at risk of suffering from mental health problems at any given point in time.

Individuals with pre-existing vulnerabilities may be pushed over the edge by harsh socio-economic difficulties, but the majority of any given populace is usually quite resilient and able to cope with the ups and downs of life. So, it does not translate into an epidemic or significant rise in the numbers of people with mental health problems.

Q: Are all mental health problems the same?

A: No they are a spectrum. Some are transient problems that can be overcome with simple social support and counselling, while others may require professional review and management – including use of medications.

Q: How do you know when it is serious?

A: It is likely to be serious when the following features are present:

Feelings of sadness and misery that persists for longer than 2 weeks.

Hearing voices or seeing things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).

Abnormal or strange beliefs such as strongly held beliefs of persecution, suspiciousness, grandiosity e.t.c (delusions).

Taking drugs in order to feel good or to cope with everyday life…..in such a manner and pattern that the person can no longer do without taking the drugs.

Problems with thinking, impaired judgement (including disinhibition of normal social norms) and difficulties with normal day to day functioning.

Q: Is mental illness not spiritual problem? Can all mental health problems be treated in hospital, even if it is caused by spiritual attack?

A: All mental health problems are medical disorders which can be successfully treated with a combination of psychological techniques and medications. It is not true that there are some mental health problems which cannot be treated in hospitals. However, considering how widespread our beliefs are in this regard; my recommendation is to ENSURE that such persons get appropriate medical treatments, which we can then support with spiritual prayers and efforts. Spiritual interventions should NEVER be a substitute for appropriate medical interventions; but an ad-on.

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