Tuesday, 3 May 2016

'Family support is critical for mental health sufferers'- Psychiatrist, Dr Maymunah Kadiri

People with mental health problems aren't now as stigmatised as they used to be. But still, many people in Nigeria refuse to get professional help in these progressive times. Some individuals choose to explain away their problem from a long list of excuses.

Instructively, attitude of Nigerians to life's biggest woes does not help, especially when people, in the face of their problems, are told to 'man up,' or 'deal with it'.

Such comments can come from family members in the form of 'tough love' without them realising that the person might have a mental health problem.

In Nigeria, family relationships are held in high esteem, therefore, family attitudes to certain ailments can discourage an individual from addressing some health issues and speaking openly about them.

Medications are not the only means to combat mental health problem. Family support or lack of it can either help or destroy the individual.

When families are not willing to address the issue openly, the mental health victim will continue to suffer in silence.

A large number of Nigerians today suffer from some form of mental health problem and this number has increased alarmingly over the years.

According to Dr Maymunah Kadiri, a celebrated consultant neuro-psychiatrist, 12.5 percent of Nigeria's population falls into this category. That is to say that about 21.2 million Nigerians are dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and paranoia, to name but a few.

She added that one out of four Nigerians, will develop a mental health problem in their lifetime.

Kadiri spoke to Daily Trust on the issue of stigma surrounding mental health issues in Nigeria and the importance of family support to the sufferer.

She said: "What worries some experts is that even if family members acquire some level of understanding, some would prefer to take such patients to spiritual healing homes or faith organisations so that they can get cured through some spiritual means."

She lamented that most people only go to neuro-psychiatric hospitals as their last resort, saying some families do not give the issue the seriousness it deserves, because they think that the problem can be fixed with visits to religious or spiritual centre.

Some people might worry about the costs of seeking expert care and convince themselves that spiritual centres can be suitable alternative, but they don't carry out any research.

Renowned consultant psychiatrist and psychologist in Lagos, Dr. Otefe Edebi, said that seeking expert help "has financial gain in some cases because sometimes the cost of proper care is less than the cost of seeking for "cure" in spiritual homes."

Edebi thinks that families do care but they don't know how to combat the issue.

He said: "The mistake they make is that they seek help in the wrong place."

He relayed a story in order to show that expert help should be the first course of action, saying: "One individual I met had sold his land and his car to cure himself before he came to the hospital. Following proper diagnosis, he only had to spend about N2000 monthly for his medication and he has since been doing fine for almost 10 years now."

Edebi argues that you can only see family involvement in cases like cancer or diabetes but when it comes to a mental health problem, the family support given to sufferers is either "inadequate" or "non-existent," largely because the family members believe the problem emanate from spiritual factors.

He said: "The belief in spiritual factors is very pronounced in our environment and what is most disheartening, for me is that, quite often, even among other fellow medical practitioners, there is still a lot of misperception about mental illness. This all comes down to cultural attitudes and beliefs which only education about health issues can help combat."

Kadiri said that people should understand that psychiatric illness is like other illnesses like (hypertension and diabetes), requiring medical attention.

She states that when families or loved ones associate mental health problems with spiritual factors, the burden of care becomes too much for the family members, especially when they have to constantly visit and pay for ineffective remedies.

"This leads to poorer outcome on the side of the patient, hence, the myth that once you have had any mental illness, you will never recover. Therefore, equipping yourself with adequate knowledge about mental health problems is a crucial step in the right direction in being able to provide support to your family member who is experiencing the problem," she said.

Mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are argued to be hereditary while some could come about through substance abuse, psychological and even cultural factors.

Individuals are encouraged to hold secular attitudes to mental health and not jump to spiritual chute that can alienate, be "destructive and create additional layers of pain and shame for the individual," said Dr Kadiri.

Kadiri added: "Researches have shown that the best treatment results are achieved when the client/patient and their family or close friends are all part of the treatment team. In the case of a serious mental health problem, the involvement of families in treatment consistently reduces relapse rates and greatly assists recovery."

(Daily Trust)