We must talk about mental health not just because it informs and encourages those with (or at risk of) mental health crises to seek help (or do something), but because ignoring it permits (and in some cases worsens) avoidable suffering.
In July 2021, I was experiencing sleep paralysis, stress, and anxiety.
I was traumatized.
I was angry.
I was sad.
Because a loved one died.
And they didn’t just die. They died laying on my hands.
I felt powerless. I felt like the world didn’t care.
I felt insignificant.
Maybe I was right.
Maybe the world doesn’t care.
Strong emotions swirled within me.
Some spiraled out of me – out of my control.
My mind messed with me, and my dreams got weird(er).
In simple terms, my mental health deteriorated.
Two months later, in September, I lost another family member.
For the first time in a long while, little droplets of tears broke free from the dam of my straight face, but I quickly wiped them off (so that no one else will notice).
I had to remain strong. Because I kept telling myself, “there is nothing special about my pain”.
“Every human must experience pain at one point or another.”
“So, bear your pain.”
“Don’t make this a thing”
And, it is true.
Life is not like Disneyland.
Hunger, illness, injury, betrayal, heartbreak, loss of a loved one, discrimination, etcetera are all common. Every one of us will experience one or more of those (if not already) in our lifetime.
Things will happen that will attempt to rip apart the delicate scaffolding of our psych.
And because some (many?) of these things are inevitable, we must learn how to endure, heal, and even grow from them.
We must talk about mental health (even as Nigerians/Africans)
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This in turn (i.e. the state of their mental health) influences how they see and understand things, which in turn affects their behavior.
For example, a person with a severe mental health crisis may not see any point in living, may not understand why they are still alive and may proceed to end the meaningless existence. This is how depression becomes suicide.
Many Nigerians don’t even know that there is such a thing as Mental health.
Like Bernadette pointed out in a couple of her posts, Africans in general struggle with the concept
What Is The Condition Of Mental Health In Nigeria?
Although the suicide mortality rate in Nigeria has been on a decline since 2,000, an average of 50 million Nigerians still struggle with mental health challenges. And the leading causes are substance abuse, economic pressure, and heart breaks .
We (Africans) know about physical health, and even though most of us don’t always take adequate care of ourselves (until when we “almost die”) at least we admit it’s important. We even have traditional medicine (which about 80 percent of we – Africans – use, though I’m not an advocate for it).
But, Mental health is something that is still alien to us – we don’t quite get it.
Many of us still think mental health challenges like depression are just a pretense, despite the staggering data saying otherwise.
Men have it worse, if a man is hurting he is told to “man up”, and if he “melts down” and cries uncontrollably he is termed a “woman” – as though being a man alienates you from our shared human emotions. Not to mention the benefits of crying.
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Why Mental Health Is Not Taken Seriously (In Nigeria)?
Perhaps it’s because mental health crises are not always self-evident like physical injuries or illnesses. For example, it is easy to know someone with a bleeding nose needs urgent help, but tricky if they only eat or sleep too much. However, mental health crises require equal (if not more) attention.
It is typical for people to look at you and see this tall handsome guy or bodacious lady.
They see no pimples on your face or scars on your skin.
They smell your nice perfume.
They say you have even “added” – not knowing it’s because you’ve been laying in bed eating chips for days, having lost interest in everything and everyone. (perhaps I should clarify that “excessive sleeping or eating” is not good for your physical and mental health)
And they think this guy or lady must be living the life – when you are trying to eat away your death anxiety, or nihilistic inclinations.
Why Is It Important To Take Care Of Your Mental Health?
Taking care of your mental health helps you enjoy your life whilst remaining productive at work, and being available (physically and emotionally) for your family and friends.
As a Nigerian man, it is almost abominable to complain of being sad, heartbroken, depressed, or even feeling suicidal (despite the immense pressure the society places on you, multiplied by the terrible economy)
You fear being seen as fragile.
But the problem is that you do not even realize that you are indeed fragile
If an assassin pointed a gun at you (even if you had six packs, the speed, and stamina of Usain bolt, and muscles like the Hulk) you would still raise your hands and beg for your life.
You understand intuitively that despite all your physical toughness, you are still vulnerable to a bullet.
No matter your level of Military or Shaolin training, you can’t evade a bullet, nor can your skull deflect a 22-caliber bullet.
So also your mind is vulnerable to the torrential downpour of the vicissitudes of life:
Hence, you must take extra steps to protect your mental wellbeing.
What’s Not Good For Your Mental Health:
Some things that are not good for your mental health include
- A very stressful job, especially when it is for very long hours
- A toxic work environment – like having a boss who doesn’t appreciate, or (worse) constantly insults you
- (on the other hand) not having a job or business, or passion.
- Not having friends
- (on the other hand) having toxic friends – by toxic I mean, unsportive, lying, abusive, negligent, backstabbing, etcetera…
- Having no, or very poor family connections
- (on the other hand) being surrounded by a toxic family.
- Being hunted (as in, running from cultists, or the police)
- Living in an unsafe environment – country or neighborhood (sadly, many terrorist groups in Nigeria threaten the citizens, always)
- Inadequate sleep, or having very fragmented and restless ones
- Poor nutrition – i.e. eating foods that do not nourish your brain properly.
- Substance abuse – including smoking, drinking, tablets, etcetera.
- (I know this is out of your control, but) Losing someone you care about – whether, they relocated to a far place, abandoned you, or died – is not good for your mental health
If you experience one or more of these, you are not in the optimal mental state.
Your mental health is under siege.
And need to do something, if you can.
Can you guess why most people wish they were still kids?
I’ll tell you.
It’s because children are HAPPY.
(Why) Are Kids More Happy?
Most kids are happier than most adults because their physical and mental health are at 99+ percent
- sleep like they own the universe
- eat whatever, and whenever they like (to their satisfaction). They don’t smoke, nor abuse substances either.
- don’t have anyone threatening them, or at least, they are unaware of any
- have people loving and always being there for them.
- don’t see the News – more correctly, “bad News”. Because the News is seldom good.
- have many friends and have zero enemies or batters (except on rare occasions).
- Have fun; or you can say, they don’t work stressful jobs.
Let me clarify, there are two types of stress eustress or (good stress), and distress (or bad stress). So, even though kids play all day, they mostly experience eustress since they relish in it.
Imagine how much happier you will be working a job that “eustresses” you.
It is also the reason you are advised to quit a toxic work environment because there is no way to enjoy the work with all the negativity around.
The point is, there is a part of you that needs to be taken care of.
It is not only about buying another car, wearing nice shoes and clothes, having random sex with people who you don’t even care about, or drinking as though you quarreled with your liver.
You need to set up an environment that supports your mental well-being if you want to enjoy life.
What Things Are Good For Mental Health:
I know someone is still asking (in their mind), “Is it even worth the fuss?”. Or, “what are the benefits of taking care of my mental health?”
Let me ask this. “What are the benefits of staying away from a 22-caliber bullet?”
Unless you enjoy being unhappy and miserable, it is pretty clear why you must do things that promote your mental health.
Some of these include
- Resting when you are tired.
- Getting adequate sleep (8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is recommended)
- Spending more time with friends and family members that you enjoy being around
- Seeking and creating a healthy work environment
- Eating a balanced diet
- Avoiding toxins like cigars, drugs, and too much alcohol. I know life can be tough, and we need to chill, but abusing substances is like adding gasoline to a fire – it worsens the situation in the long run
- Forgiving those who wrong you
- Reconciling with those you offended
- Practicing gratitude for all you have and contentment towards all you don’t have
- Expressing your feelings (I’m about to give a horrible example, but just imagine what will happen to your body if you never vomit, piss, or poop when need be).
- Exploring your interests.
- Being yourself.
Now, there is one more thing you must understand.
What Should I Do If I’m Struggling With My Mental Health
Just as we get injured or fall sick once in a while and need to go to the hospital. We must seek help when struggling with our mental health.
I remember when I was still struggling with the loss I told you about earlier.
I made it a habit to call my friends and just talk.
Almost every night I got on a WhatsApp call and talked for hours.
I wasn’t necessarily crying and telling them how sad, angry, or empty I felt.
We just talked. From money, ladies, movies, to any other thing that sparked our interest.
It was also nice having family around. My mom was around. So, we sometimes just watched TV together and laughed at the entertaining shows.
It took some time for me to not need the calls and TV anymore.
I know someone who started harboring suicidal thoughts as pressure mounted in his life.
He told me one day that he had been looking at a bottle of Snipper – a very potent liquid insecticide that has become synonymous with suicide – earlier, and felt like drinking it.
I quickly advised him to go back home and be with his family for a while.
He did as I advised.
In extreme cases (where the regular self-care routines fail to help), you may need more than friends, and family to help you go through the hard times. You may need to visit a therapist, to get professional help.
Just as Doctors take care of our physical health, Therapists take care of our mental health.
There is no need to feel embarrassed about needing therapy.
They spent years in school to learn how to help you.
Being shy to visit a therapist when having serious mental health challenges (especially when you can’t sleep, work, or are beginning to contemplate harming yourself or others), is like being ashamed to tell a doctor you have an STD or Cancer.
The more you hide it, the worse it becomes.
So, be open to that.
I hope you found this helpful.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)