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There is a difference between Mental ill-health and Mental illness. Mental ill-health is the general condition experienced by everyone in stressful situations or when faced with awful experience(s) like the death of loved ones. Examples of behaviours exhibited include sleeplessness, mood swings and lack of concentration. These behaviours are natural and fade away with time. Mental illness on the other hand is the condition that affects a person’s cognitive, reasoning, thinking, mood and relationship with others and with their daily activities. Mental health is the psychological and emotional well-being. It goes beyond this to include a state of well-being in which individuals realize their potentials, cope with stress, work productively and contribute to the community. A person is said to be mentally ill when there are disturbances in the mental functioning of the body. The study of mental illness is known as “psychiatry” and the practitioners are referred to as “psychiatrists”.
What are the symptoms of mental illness? Symptoms of mental illness vary in persons depending on the type of illness, cause and circumstances surrounding the illness. A mentally ill person may exhibit one or more of these behaviours which include; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which is common to children and sometimes in adults. ADHD behaviours include inability to sit still, aimless movement, lack of concentration, attention and focus, inability to finish up a task. Others include severe anxiety (fear of something bad happening or likely to happen), depression(psychosis), hallucination, paranoia, feeling guilt, delusion, obsession(neurosis) , bed-wetting, schizophrenia, phobia, psychosis, speaking to a companion that cannot be seen, eating and sleeping disorders, amenorrhea(absence of menstruation),bipolar disorders( mood swings, mixed emotions, crying and laughing at the same time), laughing in situations that are not funny, crying unnecessarily, addiction which could be in terms of sex, drugs, suicidal thinking, extreme cleaning of the surroundings by sweeping many times in a minute, withdrawal from people, low interaction level, lack of concentration, Alzheimer (forgetfulness), tiredness, violence, anger, lack of control, inability to differentiate between reality and fantasy, high self worth, erratic thinking, physical problems, body aches, weight loss. All these behaviours affect daily activities and relationship with others.
The society also defines a person as mentally ill or not. The definition is cultural and differs across social status. The theories of mental illness are social construction theory, religious theory and bio-medical perspective. The social construction theory states that it is the society that labels one as mentally ill or not. The definition of madness depends on the social context by which a particular behaviour is exhibited. For instance, a person who dresses in rags and dirty clothes is labeled as mentally ill in urban areas which is not so in the rural areas. A farmer in a village can walk around in dirty clothes due to the nature of his job. The reason for being dressed in that manner is understandable by the people in that culture. In respect to the social status difference, a drunkard from a poor background is labelled as being mad. Anything he says or any contribution made is seen as demented. A drunkard who is rich and influential might not been seen as being mad. His contributions are accepted by member of the community.
Religious perspective sees mental illness as a result of sins, disobedience to gods, spiritual afflictions, attacks from enemies and witchcraft or people who do not wish others well. In our culture, some mentally ill patients are said to be in that state due to the jealousy of the wicked ones. Religious treatments are given in various religious houses, Faith clinics and secluded homes owned by priests and other personalities that are believed to have direct access to God and ancestral spirits
The bio-medical theory explains the causes of mental illness as alterations in the mental, psychological and emotional health. Mental illness is seen as disease-like entities which can be treated with drugs and therapies in psychiatry hospitals.
There are many factors that can cause or lead to mental illness. Mental illness can be inherited. Having a patient in the family can lead to the risk of developing a mental illness. Life situations like failure, stress, pressure, failure, financial crisis, loss of loved ones, chronic fatigue, brain trauma due to accidents or injury on the head, tumors or cancer of the brain, child abuse, drug addiction and abuse such as smoking, use of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, caffeine, marijuana and alcoholism. Also, the use of harmful substances by a pregnant woman and exposure to viruses can affect the baby’s mental health.
Untreated mental illness can lead to complications and other risky behaviours such as committing suicide, harm to self and others, extreme violence, loss of job, absence from school, family problems such as divorce, separation, poverty, alienation from peers and friends, homelessness, wandering and relationship strains.
After seeking medical attention, patients must also act in a way that will maintain and improve their health, adhere strictly to prescriptions, drugs and therapies, obey medical instructions to the core; there must be regular attendance of clinical check-ups. Harmful behaviours like drinking, drug use, and alcoholism must be avoided. Physical activities like exercise, strolling, and engaging in hobbies reduces depression and anxiety should be adopted. Optimistic rather than pessimistic attitude must be cultivated, decision-making process should be done in good health. Social participation, mingling with friends and family members go a long way to help. Diaries to keep tracks on how the days are spent should be kept. This helps in knowing the health status.
When discussing mental illness, we cannot over-emphasize the importance and roles of the psychiatrists. A psychiatrist is a medical practitioner that diagnoses and treats mental illness. They focus on the physical causes and medical care of mental illness. Other health practitioners include the nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists (gives therapies), pharmacists (prescribe drugs and medications), social workers (help to discover and treat the social circumstances around the patients that might have resulted to the development of the illness and also help to develop social interaction levels) and the family members. The family members are the primary care givers. They are around the patients and are expected to give care, show love, attention and encourage the patients to take the prescribed medications and also bring them to the hospitals and therapies for regular check-ups. Psychiatry homes, religious houses, Faith clinics are places made available for the treatment of mental illness. Mental illness is just a crisis period that will be over when given adequate treatment. Patients needs attention and should not be stigmatized.
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