The many wrong beliefs about mental illness

John, 24, suffers from an illness that makes him withdrawn and exhibit other unusual behaviours most times.

His parents took him to the hospital for medical examination and treatment and he was diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

It was also discovered that he was into substance abuse for a very long time.

Dr Obunemen Chiweuba, a Senior Registrar with the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital Benin, described mental illness as some conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feelings, mood and behaviours.

He said, “So it is a family of many disorders that could affect a person’s mood, feeling, thinking and behaviour.

“There are quite a number of mental illnesses but the most common in our environment are depression, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse or substance disorder, amnesia, alcohol use disorder and hyper-activity disorder among others.”

Obunemen, who is the president, Association of Resident Doctors, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital Benin chapter, explained that substance abuse has become a critical factor contributing to mental illness in society, and that about 60 to 70 per cent of mental illnesses are associated with substance abuse.

He said mental illness is categorised into two – nature and nurture.

“In nature, we have genetic components which means because of hereditary factors persons are more likely to have mental condition.

“In nurture, we are talking about a gamut of factors that can make a person prone to mental disorder; it could arise from pre-ante-natal care which could affect brain development at an early stage, obstructed delivery (birth complication) malnutrition, advanced social condition like poverty and deprivation, these are all causative factors for mental condition,” he said.

He said it is difficult to point to one factor as the cause of mental illness hence it is usually a combination of factors that bring out the mental disorder in a person.

Myths about mental illness

The psychiatrist said many wrong beliefs abound about mental illness. He said these include belief that anyone staying with a mentally ill patient would be afflicted with it; that if a mad person enters a market, the illness is irreversible; if a mentally ill person bites you, you would also become mentally ill, and that mental illness is caused by spiritual powers.

He said mental illness could be managed and treated and that anyone that has it should seek help as quickly as possible.

He explained that diagnosis of mental illness is done by a trained mental health professional like a psychiatrist and a psychologist.

He explained that: “The diagnosis is done by a trained mental health professional. 

“To be a specialist in the treatment of mental health disorders, after medical training, you go for psychiatric training where you further go into aspects of mental illness, and how to diagnose, treat and manage it.”  

Prevention and treatment

Obunemen said genetic factors of mental illness may not be prevented but we can take care of other causes by saying no to substance abuse, social stress and adversity as well as improving the conditions of pregnant women among others.

He said the treatment of mental illness consists of the use of drugs after diagnosis has been made.

He said, “In some situations, we get psychological help through psychotherapists with clinical psychiatrists who help navigate the person through the condition he has. In some situations, it involves modification of some social factors like work and family balance among others.

 “But essentially, the person has to be on antidepressant drugs and if there is need for psychological and social intervention it could also be incorporated into the management.”

The psychiatrist advised people to shun substance abuse, stay away from psychoactive substances, especially young people.

“Because at that stage their brain is not fully developed or formed, and using substance will affect the development of the brain.

“People should take care of their mental health by seeking advice, help and services from mental healthcare professionals,” he said.

The specialist said government should sensitize the public on the harmful effects of substance abuse.

He also advised parents to monitor their wards on substance use as well as the adverse effect of peer pressure.

“But above all, people should seek treatment early, as soon as they notice changes in their health condition,” he advised



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