asktoks.com partnered with Nigeria Health Watch to host a panel discussion on mental health attitudes and services in Nigeria during Social Media Week Lagos 2016.
In the hours leading up to the masterclass I find myself deep in conversation with a multitude of people. Every time I mention the name of the talk it ignites a flurry of sensitive revelations;
“one of my friend’s sons had…”,
“someone very close to me once…”,
“a young man I used to know quite well is…”,
“I remember there was this…”
It seems everyone I cross paths with has a story to tell about how mental health issues have touched their lives or the life of a loved one. And everyone is ready to talk openly about this subject that is so highly stigmatized in our society.
Day 5 of social media week kicks off with a million and one malfunctions and mishaps but thanks to our two soldiers, Ada and Funmilade, who have been the backbone of this event, everything runs smoothly.
Discussion unfolds as Dr. Chikwe Ikehweazu deals out some sobering facts that indicate, in his words
“the scale of the [mental health] problem in our society and the negligible resources in the health sector to deal with these challenges.”
With 1 in 10 people across the nation dealing with a mental health issue at some point in their lives the reality of the problem is striking. In Nigeria we have approximately 200 registered consultant psychiatrists across the nation and 6 states without a single registered psychiatrist. The entire room gasps at the astonishing numbers and things start to get serious.
In answering the question “How do we deal with this problem?” the conversation takes an interesting spin. The health sector in Nigeria and other parts of the world has had to acknowledge the critical role that spirituality has to play in keeping us all from persistent mental turmoil.
The forward thinking Pastor Godman Akinlabi of Elevation Church discusses the importance of seeking medical and professional help on issues of mental health alongside important religious practices. His comments hit a nerve with our audience and sparks questions about what more the church can do to break down stigma and support people with the mental health problems who may be unwilling to seek medical care.
Dr Atilola discusses the impact of imbalances in an individual’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. He shed light on some of the challenges faced as a professional in this field and painted a more realistic and personal picture of how mental health problems manifest. Symptoms vary from individual to individual and can often be vague and difficult to detect. However, here are some common red flags to look out for:
- Withdrawal from others
- unusual changes in appetite or sleep,
- extremely low or unusually high energy levels,
- loss of concentration or problems thinking
- sudden changes in behaviour.
The discussion was now beginning to cultivate a deep and growing sense of empathy and warmth in the room so Ms Bakare leads us in her demonstration of a ‘laughing circle’. An exercise in reducing physical, mental and emotional stress by bringing more oxygen to the brain and body. Laughter is said to trigger healthy physical changes in the brain, boosting energy levels and reducing the damaging effects of stress.
As the laughing circle dissipates, the mood in the room has changed and the audience is now ready to open about mental health. Some of the questions and comments that came out of the audience.
“Growing up… people assume you are lazy, a ruffian or have extreme mood swings”
“Isn’t it time to change the language around mental health to break away from stigma?”
“What are the available tools for accessing mental healthcare in the country?”
“What can the church do? What practical support can they give their congregation?”
“We need to stop being afraid to ask for help when we need it”
“I want to encourage doctors to be more open, to create space for your patients to tell you their problems and to offer them the help they need”
“As a society we all have our part to play in supporting each other”
If your mental or emotional state quickly gets worse (symptoms persist over the course of 2 weeks), or you/re worried about someone you know – help is available.
You’re not alone; talk to someone you trust. Talk to us.