We heard her screams first, “I’ll kill you before you kill me!” followed by painful, heartbreaking sobs of someone that sounded like she was receiving heavy, physical blows. Neighbours rushed to the house to help, it turned out that Adaeze was beating her mom – again. By then, almost everyone in the neighbourhood knew about Adaeze’s mental health issues. Was it the days where she held full blown conversations on the street with herself? Or the day she chased and beat up a child returning home from school for wanting to “block her destiny?” We all knew she wasn’t really okay, but apart from subtly avoiding going to their compound, and the occasional hushed side talks, everyone more or less pretended that all was well.
I’ve always wondered about the shame and stigma of living with a relative with mental illness. It can’t be easy handling it in a gossip-oriented and judgmental society like Nigeria.
I often wonder, did Adaeze’s family notice the signs of her mental breakdown early? Did they recognize it? And if they did, was there anything they could have done to help? As a society, we are more familiar with tangible ailments like headache, stomach ache, fever, fatigue. It is easy to go to a hospital and identify with these symptoms and get treatment for them but it is awkward to go to a hospital and tell your doctor, “I hear voices in my head”, “I feel as though I’m losing myself”. The typical response from a Nigerian parent would be to take you to church or to a prophet for deliverance. I’ve been thinking, we really can do better, as individuals and as a society.
To commemorate mental health awareness month, I spoke to a friend who is a trained phycologist, and we had an illuminating conversation about mental health.
We all go through stuff, things too painful that break our mental threshold. Especially now that depression and anxiety is a constant amongst us.
Depression and anxiety are the most common mental disorders that most of us battle. The common symptoms of depression have been clinically explained using the cognitive triad of depression. This is a negative and irrational view of ourselves, our future and the world around us. This negative triad demonstrates these three thought patterns;
- Worthlessness: Negative views about oneself
- Hopelessness: Negative views about the future
- Helplessness: Negative views about the world
One tends to lose interest in things that used to be pleasurable for instance they can suddenly stop eating or start binge eating. Do routine mental checks on yourself and if you recognize these traits here are some things that can help,
Experience of competence:
Think back to past times where you did something noble, mustn’t be grand e.g. I have an education, I finished secondary school, I am not in jail. We often don’t know that there are lots of positive things that happen to us and around us.
Keep a journal, write down how you feel when you do something that is outstanding and you are proud of your achievements. Write down how you feel at that time acknowledging the work you put in to achieve that. On the days when you are feeling down and hopeless, reading those things you wrote about your self when you were happy will help you realize you were once that happy person who can accomplish great feats. This helps you understand that you can go back to being that person and whatever is wrong now will still pass.
Remember and give positive things prominent attention because our brain is wired to highlight negative things. Think every day of the things you are grateful for.
Facial conditioned reflex:
Smiling is associated with positive dispositions in our brain and when we smile, we often instruct our brain to evoke positive emotions. Smile more often.
Be done with the circle of thoughts that drive you back to depression. When you start thinking negative thoughts, consciously stop yourself and determine not to be dragged back into depression.
Expressing your feelings:
Express your feelings more often through writing, singing, art, music, conversations with loved ones. It’s like opening a jar bursting full, you’ll feel lighter and better afterwards. Find a rhythm that works for you.
Mental health is not a destination, but a process. Always take care of yourself.