The average belief of people living in most developing countries is that one is only mentally ill if they are seen casually wearing rags on the streets. But literally, we all have some form of mental health challenge. So why the mental health stigma? This post contains an inquiry into the challenges of mental health especially in Africa, with suggestions on ending mental health stigma and promoting mental health literacy for all. The country Nigeria was used as a case study
For the average Nigerian, a person is said to be mentally ill when they are dirty, naked, or in tattered clothes and roaming the streets without bearing. Little do people consider the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of an individual; how they think, feel, and act.
The ability to recognize specific mental health disorders; knowing how and where to find mental health information; knowledge of risk factors and causes, self-treatments, and of professional help available; and attitudes that promote recognition and appropriate help-seeking, sums up the term referred to as Mental Health Literacy.
But mental health literacy cannot co-exist with the stigmatization of mentally ill persons. One may have all the knowledge on mental health issues, but due to some factors like culture and religion, one may still attribute certain mental health conditions to spiritual attacks, or some forces of the unnatural source. Such a person is not to be considered mental health literate.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2018, one in four Nigerians are suffering from some sort of mental illness. This sums up to over 50 million mentally ill persons in Nigeria, and the majority of them are youths aged between 16 to 30 years.
It is therefore imperative that the issue of stigma, mental health literacy, and the Nigerian youth are discussed with the view of ending mental health stigma among youths.
The Challenges of Mental Health Literacy
Mental health has much broader scopes than most youths imagine. And there are some concepts in mental health literacy that are often neglected by many. Most people in our environment tend to forget that mental health is not only genetic but can be precipitated by some of our actions against our fellow human beings.
For instance, some parents in Nigeria may not understand how verbal abuse could lead a youth who is under their care into depression, because it is almost seen as a culture for parents to abuse their children verbally in our society.
Also, rarely do Nigerians pay attention to some aspects of human psychology and behavior that could affect their relationships with other people.
There are various psychological models like the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram Model , etc which is an attempt by psychologists to understand how people think, and the motive behind their everyday behavior. But such concepts are only a fairy tale in Nigerian society.
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The importance of understanding human personality types among youths is that it helps to brood tolerance, acceptance, and understanding among us. This is a way of ending mental health stigma due to mental health challenges posed by our personality types.
This is because certain studies have linked some mental health conditions to the personality types of individuals. Meaning that people with certain personality types are more predisposed to suffer certain mental health conditions.
Factors Behind the Mental Health Stigma in Youths
1. Religious Beliefs and Fanaticism
For a country like Nigeria where a large percentage of the population is fanatically religious, mental health conditions when sighted in a person are immediately attributed to a supernatural force.
A person who may be suffering from Schizophrenia will be taken to religious houses because of their belief that he/she communicates with ghosts and spirits. This is because of the lack of understanding that auditory hallucination is among the first rank symptoms of Schizophrenia.
Children and young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are also mistaken to be possessed by demons and evil spirits, leading to further stigma and lack of good personal relationships with peers.
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2. Sociocultural Beliefs
One mental health condition that is most worsened by the sociocultural beliefs of many Nigerians is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following sexual abuse. And the majority of Nigerians who are victims of rape are youths; mostly females.
In many Nigerian cultures, rape and other forms of sexual abuse are considered a big disgrace both for the victims and the families. And in a bid to protect the reputation of the family, the victim is forced to suffer in silence instead of seeking help from relevant bodies. This is a great trigger for worsening Post-traumatic stress disorder.
3. Ignorance and Lack of Exposure
The stigma attached to mental health conditions could be reduced by far through mental health campaigns, which is geared to enlighten youths about mental health conditions and to reduce the stigma associated with it.
This message still needs to reach many Nigerian youths living in our villages, and everywhere in the country.
4. The Fear of Loneliness and Losing their Future
Another factor that has been indirectly increasing the level of mental health stigma is that many Nigerian youths, even when they are diagnosed with mental illness may be afraid to seek help. This is usually because they do not want to be taken to a correction center away from their family and friends.
Also, the state of some mental health correction centers in Nigeria is discouraging to many mentally ill persons. Being taken to a mental health correction center in Nigeria could place one’s career on hold for the time being, and this means that their mates could get ahead of them in their education and other career paths.
This causes many mentally ill youths to reject the rehabilitation centers and to refuse help completely leading to worsening mental health conditions and therefore, increasing stigma and dissociation from friends and colleagues.
Ways of Ending Mental Health Stigma through Mental Health Literacy
Ending mental health stigma among Nigerian youths is not just in the hands of the government, but also in the hands-on non-governmental organizations, non-profit bodies, and the whole community of the mentally literate in the country.
Most of the strategies for promoting mental health literacy among Nigerian youths are centered on organizing various forms of mental health campaigns.
Campaigns for ending Mental health stigma can come in various forms:
1. The Physical Mental Health Campaigns
Physical campaigns for ending mental health stigma can come in form of:
- Outreaches in villages
- Mental Health seminars and workshops
- Gathering and analyzing data through self-report questionnaires to ascertain the level of mental health literacy in youths, and using such data as guide in carrying out mental health campaigns.
These mental health campaigns should be targeted more to the youths living in our villages and rural communities who are more prone to attributing mental health issues to supernatural forces.
Also, such youths may not have access to the resources and gadgets to participate actively in the second form of mental health campaign; the virtual campaigns.
2. The Virtual Mental Health Campaigns
These include online campaigns which could be accessed using technological devices like mobile phones, laptops, television, radio, etc. Examples of virtual campaigns for ending mental health stigma could be;
- Webinars on Mental Health Issues
- Creating Blogs and Online Communities where people suffering various mental health challenges can feel at home, learn more about their conditions, and even chat with therapists about their challenges.
- Hosting Youtube channels for adequate enlightenment on mental health issues.
- Teaching youths about their personality types, and how it affects their mental health using Introspective self-report questionnaires like the Meyers Briggs Personality Test.
3. Others Means of Ending Mental Health Stigma
- Issuing due penalty to perpetrators of sexual violence, and educating the victims on the need for therapy to reduce the incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Encouraging youths who are interested in studying mental health courses in the university through scholarships, grants, and other incentives.
- Rebuilding and restructuring our rehabilitation centers in a way that mentally ill youths in our society can still carry on with their career even while receiving therapy.
- Carrying out campaigns and outreaches in the various religious organizations in the country with the goal of solving the problem of attributing mental health issues to the supernatural.
- Catching them young: The best way to enlighten the youths of tomorrow is to catch them young. This entails carrying out campaigns in institutions where young people are highly populated like secondary schools
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With the growth of the internet and mobile technology, ending mental health stigma among youths has been easier.
Nevertheless, the challenges faced by Nigerian youths in acquiring mental health literacy are mainly caused by ignorance, and lack of enthusiasm in mental health matters.
But with the right stimulation through more mental health campaigns, there is a great hope that many Nigerian youths will embrace the light in terms of mental health literacy.
Also, with proper enlightenment, the stigma caused by mental health illiteracy will be gradually eliminated from our society.
Finally, ending mental health stigma depends not on the government and health workers alone, but on the collective effort from you and me.