Is the Occurrence of a Mental Illness Random?

How people acquire a mental illness still remains a mystery.

Is it communicable? Is it spiritual? Is it a curse? Is it hereditary? Or does it have to do with an imbalance in our neuro-chemicals? With so many different theories out there, it is hard to know which one is widely accepted.

I will not claim to have the answers to these burdening questions, but I will shed some light based on my experience working in mental health institutions. Therefore, the contents of this article are strictly my opinion.

The occurrence of mental illnesses is not random! Let me explain. I have had the privilege of examining the mental state of people from both the spiritual and scientific angles.  At times, there is a need to eliminate life experiences and attribute the cause to certain conditions of the brain or spiritual problems. There is a psychological model called the diathesis-stress model which explains that someone may have a vulnerability to a mental health issue. The diathesis, for example, can be an early childhood trauma or a parent who suffered from mental illness. This predisposition would then need to interact with a life event (the stress) which could trigger the onset of a mental disorder. Some of these life events could be a breakdown in one’s marriage, the death of a loved one, etc. There are also protective factors that shield one from acquiring a mental illness such as a secure attachment with a childhood caregiver, employment, etc. Most times, these mental illnesses, triggered by these life events, manifest from the onset and impinge gradually until they become more serious.

We cannot treat mental health the same way as physical health. You cannot just treat the ‘illness’ or symptoms and forget about the individual. Mental health is personal and no two people are the same, even if they both have the same diagnosis. When we shift our perspective of mental health to the individual, this changes what treatment should be available for recovery. Certain clinical methods need to be prescribed so that one can fully understand their life story and how various factors may have contributed to their current state. An example of this is psychotherapy. It can be scary but also empowering because it gives the power to the individuals and makes them realize that they probably are not crazy or their brain decided to randomly stop functioning. Usually, the brain responds to the environment. If there were stressful life events, it may have manifested in the functioning of the brain.

I am a firm believer in not seeing people with mental illnesses as their clinical labels; Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. I understand there are important descriptors to diagnose and implement the correct treatment. However, I believe we need to look beyond these labels to see the human being underneath. So, instead of seeing someone as only a mentally ill person, maybe we can say they are human beings going through a mentally ill experience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kawthar is a psychology graduate currently working as a research assistant in mental health in the UK. She plans become a qualified clinical psychologist in the near future. She is passionate about removing the stigma around mental health and also examining the cultural and social context in which a person’s mental health evolves from.

All Patients with Mental Disorders Are Not Violent

The world keeps developing and our ways of thinking keep changing due to exposure to different developments around us. Although the way the society thinks of mental illness has changed, it has not changed as much as it ought to.

One of the major problems that mentally ill patients face, especially in collectivistic societies, is being termed as violent people. Many people still hold on to that misconception that every mentally ill patient is a violent person. The reverse is the case really; being mentally ill does not automatically make one violent. Even those that exhibit violent tendencies act that way not because they want to hurt others, but because it is a form of coping mechanism. Violent behaviours amongst mentally ill people is an externalized expression of symptoms and a way of dealing with conflict, fear, and goal-blockage.

People with mental disorders have a lot going for them, especially those in countries that think being mentally ill is something to be ashamed of. When patients are accused of being dangerous, it can have a demoralizing effect on their visions for relationships, employment, housing, and social functioning. A study stated that symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, rather than the diagnosis itself, appear to exhibit or show tendencies of violent behaviours. Another study by Harvard (2011), shows that not all people suffering from major mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia have high tendencies of acting violently, but rather people with the illness and history of psychotic thoughts that influence their behaviours that stand a higher risk of acting violently when they have symptoms of some mental disorders. Also, when a personality disorder happens in combination with another psychiatric disorder, the blend may escalate the risk of violence. Patients suffering from hallucinations or delusional thoughts are also at a higher risk of exhibiting violence because they may abide by their irrational thoughts hence misinterpreting the actions of others as dangerous, thus respond violently. On the other hand, patients with symptoms of social withdrawal, sleep-wake disorders etc. are at a lower risk of acting aggressively.

There are as many mental disorders that patients are at lower risk of acting aggressively just the way there are some that patients are at higher risk of acting violently.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Saratu Abubakar is a young lady who majors in Journalism and minors in Psychology at the American University of Sharjah. She is passionate about mental health and aims to pursue a masters in social psychology after her undergraduate. She loves writing and that has led her into writing a fictional novel.

No Shame

It hasn’t always been easy to accept my condition; its perks and limitations. It wasn’t always easy to accept that I am different. I didn’t always have the courage to start a mental health conversation.

Coming out of the mental illness closet is as scary for me as it for anyone else. People begin to doubt you. They question your judgment. They discount your opinion. And begin to use your condition as a tool against you. All of which are NOT OKAY.

I know what depression feels like. I know what it’s like to have thoughts so wild in your head that they feel like individual voices. I know what it feels like to cry ceaselessly for days for no reason whatsoever. And I know what it is to be suicidal.

But you know what’s most important? That I know what it feels like to feel alone in this. I know the misery that accompanies not being understood or feeling like you need to prove you are ill. I have felt the emptiness of not having someone to share my candid experience with.

That is why I choose to speak. I choose to lend my voice. I choose to listen. I bear #NoShame living with more than one mental illness and I implore every one reading this to create a safe environment for people to speak about mental health. End the stigma by asking questions. Let us who live with the illness tell you about it. Do not criticize what you don’t understand.

Finally, everyone living with a mental illness has a right to recover at their own pace. You need not jump out of the closet if you are not ready. There is no pressure whatsoever. But know this, WE BELIEVE YOU. YOU ARE NOT YOUR ILLNESS. YOU ARE A SYMBOL OF STRENGTH. AND YOU ARE #NOTALONE

Big thanks to The Siwe Project for this brilliant initiative. #NoShameDay

Let’s Just Be Who We Really Are

Shola is hearing voices and having bloody hallucinations. Her parents have completely made her feel like she is overreacting. ‘Just strengthen your relationship with God and stop listening to your body so much’, they say. Since everyone else seems to make light of the situation, she now thinks that she may actually be overreacting. So Shola keeps her problems to herself and decides to ‘pull it together’.

Nnenna can’t make sense of the fact that she wakes up every night crying hysterically. Of course, she has to stomach that unexplained pain weighing on her and ensure that Mama doesn’t hear her sobbing in the dark. You see, Nnenna keeps having nightmares and flashbacks of the nights Uncle Chudi hurriedly entered her room. With one hand raised and one finger on his mouth, Nnenna knew there was no escape. He had been providing for Mama, herself and her younger ones ever since papa died. Mama let out a heavy sigh the day Nnenna told her of Uncle’s escapades. And that was it.

Everything seems to be going well for Hadiza. She works at a top finance company and has a man that loves her so much. Her family, like any other, has its challenges, but everything is looking good. But what are these bouts that plunge Hadiza to extreme happy moods that have her spending 6 figures a day and craving sexual adventures from any man that so much as smiles at her. The confusing bit is when all these sudden go away and she dives into at a low that makes wonder if life’s worth living.

Shola, Nnenna and Hadiza are three Nigerian women who live with mental disorders – schizophrenia, PTSD and bipolar respectively – and need answers. Rather than keeping their confusions and mystery to themselves in the midst of self-denial and denial from loved ones, there is a SAFEPLACE these lovely ladies can take masks off, rip off the fake smiles and be who they really are.

Finally, there is a safe place that holds love, hope and support. The first mental health support group in Nigeria, we can all feel safe among the misfits.

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