(This is a guest post by Dr. Gbonju Abiri, a senior resident at the Yaba Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Lagos, Nigeria.)
Last week, I was invited to see a 35-year-old single, unemployed female patient who had been living in America until recently. A year before her abrupt return, she had severed all communication with her family and since her return to Nigeria, she had not spoken to anyone. Though she eats and takes a bath when she deems it fit, she spends most of the day in bed, sleeping, tossing and turning, refusing to speak to anyone and answering questions only by smiling or by slight nodding of the head.
Her family invited me to see her because they were worried she wasn’t speaking… but that was as much as they were worried. They had, increasingly since her return, spoken harsh words, stating to her face that she was just pretending and that she should just snap out of whatever was wrong with her, especially if she wanted them to help her.
Although, I couldn’t get a history of happenings in her life in the previous year, and since she had alienated herself from her family members who didn’t think so much of it, it seemed to me like this patient had been ill all the while and the alienation was one of the first symptoms of this present illness.
I advised that she be brought in to the hospital and that was when more drama started… “There is nothing wrong with her…” “Who will pay the bills?” The conversation went on, spiraling into more arguments with no end in sight.
Families play a great part in the mental health of a person. Besides the fact that mental illness may be the result of genetic factors, the recovery of a patient is also often aided or impeded by their family.
Mental illness is defined as illness with psychological or behavioral manifestations leading to abnormalities in thought, emotions, cognition, sensory perceptions, etc. and it often leads to increased suffering, pain, disability, death or important loss of freedom.
In this part of the world, we hate the tag ‘mental illness’, and people hurriedly term a person with such illness mad or insane. Nothing could be more wrong. Every day, as a psychiatrist, I see firsthand the necessity for getting help for mental illness. I also see the need for familial support in patients’ recovery.
Being a part of a family can be a protective or a destructive factor in the life of an individual as factors such as care, warmth, critical comments, emotional over involvement can affect the onset, progression or prognosis of an illness.
It is important for family members to be able to balance the demands of their own lives to allow for support and care of other members of their family. If we don’t take care of our family members, who will?
Are you or someone you know going through emotional or psychological trauma?
Are you having strange experiences or strange feelings that you can’t explain?
Are you scarred by past experiences you have had and can’t seem to move on or ahead?
Are you having problems carrying out productive activities?
Do you have problems having fulfilling relationships with others?
Do you have extreme difficulty with adapting to change or to cope with adversity?
Are you having a convulsive episode or a seizure disorder?
Have you thought of taking your own life or even attempted it?
I could go on with many questions. But it’s important to know that help can be sought and the earlier it is sought the faster your life can get back on track. The first step to tackling a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Let us collectively fight the stigma of mental illness by talking about it and by helping our loved ones through such experiences.
Dr. Abiri is largely involved in mental health advocacy and occupational mental health. She blogs at www.naijashrink.blogspot.com