Mental illness: Why it must worry you.

Mental health situation of South Sudan Courtesy PhotoMental health situation of South Sudan Courtesy Photo

If you are sitting with three other friends having tea or enjoying a weekend somewhere, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that one of the four of you will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their lives.

That is just but one of the bad news. The other startling thing is that in the African region, government expenditure per capita on mental health is less than 10 cents. But just what is mental health?

American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental illnesses as health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

“Mental health involves effective functioning in daily activities resulting in productive activities (work, school, caregiving), healthy relationships, ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity,” says APA.

Number one reason why mental health is important and thus worth the world’s attention is because this is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem. Mental health is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to community or society.

“Many people who have a mental illness do not want to talk about it. But mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of! It is a medical condition, just like heart disease or diabetes. And mental health conditions are treatable. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. While mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24,” states APA.

In March 2022, Kenya’s controversial musician and businessman Akothee described what mental illness feels like, going ahead to even give tips to those affected.

According to the vocal social media influencer, mental illness can be triggered by various factors; living conditions and the types of relationships and interactions one has. As a result, an individual tends to withdraw from daily human interactions and in some cases suffers sleeplessness and excessive tiredness.

“Mental health can easily be activated by your environment, the people you relate with and even your relationship. The feeling of uncertainty, not sure of what next and what to expect, may drive you into sleepless nights and excessive tiredness. When you have less sleep, your brain stops functioning and you automatically go into an autopilot mood.

“This feeling makes you desperate because you realize you aren’t yourself and you can’t do much. Your energy is completely drained and even almost not possible for you to breathe. You lose motivation in everything and everything in life seems like an attack. “You become extremely violent and unreasonable,” she added.

Multiple published research articles suggest that there is scarcity of research on mental health in Africa, which reflects the weakness of mental health services on the continent and the blind eye turned to the problem by many Africans and their governments.

The Lancet Global Health reports that the African region has 1.4 mental health workers per 100,000 people, compared with a global average of 9.0 per 100,000, and also performs relatively poorly with regard to the number of psychiatrists, the number of hospital beds for patients with mental illness, and the coverage of outpatient facilities. Partly as a consequence, the proportion of Africans who receive treatment for mental health problems is extremely low.

“While the global annual rate of visits to mental health outpatient facilities is 1051 per 100 000 population, in Africa the rate is 14 per 100 000. In Sierra Leone, for example, the treatment gap (that is, the proportion of those in need who go untreated) for formal mental health services has been estimated at 98.8%,” reads the report in part.

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