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Lately, there has been increased coverage of mental health issues by the media worldwide. This is owing to the rising prevalence of cases of mental illness all over the world. Despite widespread media coverage, there still exists vast and incommensurate lack of understanding of mental health and illnesses among the populace including among the so called educated and enlightened lot. Lack of understanding, ignorance, and idiocy has led to association of mental disorders with all kinds of phenomena including witchcraft, evil spirits, curses, spells, and other matters paranormal. Because of the mortification of mental disorders, deep seated stigma continues to affect those afflicted and their families. The statistics I am about to unleash should be a wakeup call to all of us to debunk the myths that shape our perceptions, attitudes, and approach towards the mentally ill.
Talking of statistics, in Kenya, at least one in every four people that present to a healthcare facility do so for treatment of a mental health issue. According to the World Health Organization, Kenyaâ€™s mental disorders account for 5.9% of the total global burden. Prevalence of mental illnesses in Kenya is attributed to poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, stress, and other environmental factors. As far as the US is concerned, the National Institute of Health statistics indicate that an estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older -- about 1 in 4 adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Numbers donâ€™t lie and these statistics apply to the Kenya Diaspora population as well. In fact, the statistics in the Diaspora may be higher due to unique work and social environmental circumstances such as work- related pressure, disconnection from loved ones back home, immigration hassles, and the like.
There are various myths surrounding mental illness. For instance, many people think that mental illness is due to the fault of the mentally ill person or that the mentally ill person should be able to control his or her behavior. Other myths surrounding mental illness are; the belief that personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems, that there is no hope for people with mental health problems, that once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover, and that people with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
Because of these myths and negative perceptions many treat people with mental health issues with derision, describe them using negative labels such as â€˜crazyâ€™ and define them by their diagnosis. In extreme cases, there is outright discrimination and rejection of the mentally ill. Yet some forms of mental illnesses are lifestyle diseases triggered by the pressures of modern life and some are comorbidities of other major illnesses. Understand however, that at the fundamental level, genes play a pivotal role in development of mental illness. But some forms of mental illness such as depression and bipolar can afflict any one at any stage and age in life. It is therefore not correct to think or believe that you will never be affected. Moreover, children especially of immigrants are particularly susceptible to mental illnesses.
Some of the most common forms of mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. The most misunderstood form of mental illness is bipolar, yet it is one whose occurrence is rapidly increasing. Bipolar disorder simply consists of mood swings. According to many mental health practitioners, it is â€œthe best mental illness to haveâ€. This is because it is highly treatable and manageable, although treatment takes a long course. A person with bipolar can be jovial, hyper, excited, energetic and happy at one time and then seriously depressed, withdrawn, and low at another time. The happy phase is called mania and can take a day, a couple of days or weeks. During the mania phase the person may exhibit bizarre behavior such as restlessness, talking a lot, rapidly, and loudly. Such a person may also exhibit erratic behavior such as reckless driving, making poor business decisions, and impulsiveness. Those around such a person may consider the person â€œa little weirdâ€ or â€œoffâ€. Late onset bipolar tends to be mild. Most people with bipolar use and abuse alcohol to treat their symptoms, but this only makes it worse. Bipolar is very treatable and people with it lead normal and successful lives. In fact, persons with bipolar can be very intelligent and productive. In severe cases of bipolar, psychosis and suicidal ideation may be present and can sometimes lead to suicide.
Another misunderstood form of mental illness is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a more severe form of mental illness but it is also treatable and manageable. People with schizophrenia in addition to most of the symptoms of other forms of mental illnesses also exhibit hallucinations and hearing of voices. With treatment, persons with schizophrenia can lead pretty normal lives. Untreated, almost all forms of mental illness can lead to severe consequences such as suicide, homicide, homelessness, poverty and permanent psychosis..
Dealing with a mentally ill person can be frustrating and challenging, but it is no reason to punish, mistreat, shun, or ostracize such a person. In fact, care and support from friends and family members contributes to quick and sustained recovery. It is amazing that even in places of worship mentally ill people are shunned instead of being received with compassion and love. We should realize that mental disorders are health conditions like any others such as diabetes and hypertension, needing treatment and management. On their part, persons afflicted with any form of mental illness should play an active role in its treatment and management for successful recovery. Playing an active role involves researching, knowing and appreciating all facets of oneâ€™s illness, self-awareness, applying coping skills, and being vigilant.
- By Regina Njogu
Regina, u sua? What you imply here is that 25% of the entire population ni chizi! Wow! And you even imply that the percentage is higher for diaspora. Yesterday, Jamhuri Day here in the US I had some mbuzi grill and I had 13 Kenyans in attendance but I really don't think 4 of them were manoki ......are you trying to stretch it or is it to scare us? Many Kenyans work with real manoki and now you tell us maybe 3 out of 10 amongst them ni manoki pia, yaaani manoki wanachunga manoki wengine, lol! Have u fallen into that most American tendency to stretch the definition of phenomena such as this in order to attract more funding? When I am jobless for a lengthy period of time, I become depressed. Is this a mental issue? I just need a job and I'll be ok. Pretty much like when I miss my lunch - I become very hungry and the panacea is some foofoo or sembe. Honestly, I have become afraid of people like you rouble rousers because you ultimately succeed in diagnosing every other person as sick when they are not. Sample this: the other day, the top professional medical body in the U.S. defined obesity as a disease. I suspect the reason is money - chapaa! They want insurance companies and Medicaid to throw money at it too so that somebody can enrich himself. Obesity is the condition you get when you eat gluttonously without a thought about where all that food goes, period! Don't fall into this bandwagon and you need to do some better research
Bogi Benda, I would not look at it like 3 out of 10 kenyans ni manoki right now..rather mental illness especially among our people is something that is unimaginable and often undiagnosed as we only think of extreme cases. Even if 30% of your friends did have some form of diagnosed mental illness, you probably would not know as they would not tell you. I personally know of a few bipolar people living very productive lives that have their mental illness under control. As Regina mentioned, people are under a lot of different stressors, and I imagine all it would take is one big stressor to push one to the wall and break them, in the absense of an intervention and proper coping mechanisms.
To use your example,one might lose a good job and be depressed over that. That might manifest in sleepless nights, self medicating with drugs or alcohol, homelessness and for some suicidal ideation, etc. Some have even committed suicide over that. Whatever the case might be, it is better to know the signs and watch out for them as people can develop them at any point in their lives so as to get help asap rather than assume that 'we' do not suffer from mental illness.
The gossips we hate in our villages/estate helps alot. It is part of socializing. Those bigwa wa gossips never get depressed because they have the current news of who is dating who & who bought TV/Car/dress etc. If you do not have a social group join my group call "Bring your hot Gossips Home" after that we dance zumba for 1 hour.
Drugs & pombe wacha.
Help is available from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.
1-800-950-NAMI(6264) or email@example.com