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.

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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