Mental Health and Psychiatry, by Temitayo Olatunji

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When I had my first mental health class, I couldn’t wait to know all I needed to about the course. Before then, I was told to expect a very bulky course and of course; I was trusting God for strength – which was my only option.

According to WHO, mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his/her own abilities, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his/her community. Mental illness occurs when the state of physical, mental, social and spiritual wellness is disturbed.

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses, emotional disturbance and abnormal behaviour. A “Psychiatrist” is a medical doctor who is qualified in Psychiatry while “Psychiatric Nursing” is a specialised branch of nursing in which the nurse utilizes her own personality, knowledge of psychiatry and available environment to effect therapeutic changes in the patient’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Many Nigerian parents won’t want their children to specialise or study this course due to some of the misconceptions and myths associated with it. Well – I believe there’s a lot to learn and unlearn here, also bearing in mind and understanding that our parents love and care about us – I found the course very interesting after the first lecture and hope to have a beautiful time studying it.

This field of medicine is faced with numerous challenges, which include the endless misconceptions and myths about psychiatry and psychiatry specialists. Below is a list of some misconceptions I got from the class;

  • It is believed that psychiatric illnesses are a special and different form of physical illness.
  • People who have these illnesses must be taken to special institutions (psychiatric homes) and should be restricted (whereas, in the real sense, they shouldn’t have a life void of freedom)
  • Psychiatric illnesses are infectious. Lol, this just made us really laugh in class especially when the lecturer continued by saying, “It is believed that once a mentally ill person bites a sane person, then the sane person becomes mentally ill afterwards”. Well, their saliva don’t contain infectious agents or a deadly virus, so I wonder how this is possible.
  • Psychiatric patients never get well once they visit the marketplace (like a typical market setting, where buying, selling and other transactions take place on a daily basis).
  • “Once a psychiatric patient, always a psychiatric patient”. A person who once had a mental illness can never be normal.
  • Psychiatric Nurses behave like their patients. I think this belief came up because the nurses get to spend more time with the patients.
  • Psychiatric illnesses are believed to be incurable.
  • Psychiatric illnesses are a form of punishment for sin.

The list is actually endless. I know I may not be sure of other geographical areas but I am very sure that these misconceptions are believed almost everywhere in Nigeria. It is actually very unfair on the part of these patients because after visiting a mental home, most of them deal with stigmatization throughout their lifetime.

Personally, I didn’t know I knew about some of these misconceptions until they were mentioned and then I could relate to them. Meaning; I’ve always had them in my subconscious – maybe waiting to know whether or not they are true and should be believed. I feel there’s a whole lot to be done in Psychiatry, not just by “the government” this time but also by “the governed” and we shouldn’t just fold our arms to watch or point accusing fingers to those who have put in their own quota. For instance, if your neighbour just got back from rehabilitation center (rehab) or a psychiatric home and all you offered was “free rumor dissemination services” and then the whole city knows about it – you have no idea how he or she will feel about the whole process right?

WAIT FOR IT!

He goes out tomorrow to get some things for himself, the owner of the store stigmatizes him or goes as far as asking suspicious questions or making unnecessary comments, you think that alone won’t put him back in a worse phase?  A few weeks later, after numerous encounters, the whole episode lands him in a mess and then “you” say, “Oh! No! The Healthcare professionals and his Nurses didn’t handle his case well, or yes, the government didn’t provide a beautiful environment for therapeutic effects, the hospital wasn’t a good choice”… Well, my dear, you failed on your part too and this is neither the specialist’s nor the government’s fault.

All you need do in such cases is “show some love, care, give kind words, be encouraging”, these alone will make them feel welcomed and will also help them have a good sense of belonging. I know it’s not easy to do these things but God’s strength is always sufficient.

Finally, A lot more needs to be done in the field of Psychiatry and Psychiatric Nursing, we can be the change we want to see. A career in these fields won’t be a bad idea… But do not forget to “play your part and choose to disbelieve the numerous misconceptions”.

Temitayo Olatunji (The Ideal Nurse)

 

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