The challenges of mental health issues

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Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. 

While stress sources don’t necessarily cause anxiety disorders, they can worsen symptoms. And while, as mentioned above, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses affecting adults and children across the world today. 

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions, disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time

Some mental illnesses have been linked to abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions. Nerve cells within these brain circuits communicate through chemicals called neurotransmitters. “Tweaking” these chemicals through medicines, psychotherapy or other medical procedures can help brain circuits run more efficiently. Defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental conditions. 

Mental health-related issues have also been seen to run in families, suggesting that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be somewhat more likely to develop one themselves. Susceptibility is passed on in families through genes. 

Experts believe many mental illnesses are linked to abnormalities in many genes rather than just one or a few and that how these genes interact with the environment is unique for every person (even identical twins). 

That is why a person inherits a susceptibility to a mental illness and doesn’t necessarily develop the illness. Mental illness itself occurs from the interaction of multiple genes and other factors such as; stress, abuse, or a traumatic event which can influence, or trigger, an illness in a person who has an inherited susceptibility to it. 

Certain infections have been linked to brain damage and the development of mental illness or the worsening of its symptoms. Defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental illnesses. 

Some evidence suggests that a disruption of early foetal brain development or trauma that occurs at the time of birth for example, loss of oxygen to the brain may be a factor in the development of certain conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder. 

Long-term substance abuse, in particular, has been linked to anxiety, depression, and paranoia. Other factors include; poor nutrition and exposure to toxins, such as lead, may play a role in the development of mental illnesses.

Mental health challenges and disorders have many different signs and symptoms and can look different in different people. They can impact how a person thinks, feels and behaves.

Some common symptoms of a mental health challenge or disorder are: changes in mood, changes in the way you perceive thing, obsessions, fears, feelings of anxiety

Mental health challenges and disorders can happen to anyone. They affect people of all ages, races and social classes. No one is immune.

The best way to prevent mental health challenges from getting worse is to recognize symptoms early and get professional help. Many mental health challenges and disorders can be treated successfully. When the signs are recognized early, that person can get started on the path to a full recovery.

The Managing Director, Gede Foundation, John Minto, at a training on behavioural change and research methodology on capacity building for healthcare agencies said, his organisation is ready to work with the Federal Government of Nigeria to integrate screening and treatment of mental ailment into the primary healthcare service.

Considering that some medical scholars have revealed that in a population of 160 million or thereabout, it is speculated that 64 million Nigerians suffer from one form of mental illness or the other deserving attention, Minto said the big thing is for his foundation to work with the government to integrate issues of mental care in primary health at the community level. He added that they were in a working relationship with the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) to make sure that mental health is in the HIV national strategic framework.  

Culled from The Daily Trust Newspaper

They Fled Boko Haram, Only to Be Raped by Nigeria’s Security Forces

Culled from The New York Times

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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The camp was supposed to be a refuge. Falmata’s life had been stolen by war ever since the sixth grade, when she was abducted from her home and raped repeatedly by Boko Haram’s fighters for the next three years.

She finally escaped last spring, slipping into the bush while her captors slept. Fourteen years old and alone, she made it to a camp for victims of the war, and had just settled in for the night when she heard footsteps outside her tent. A security officer’s voice instructed her to come out. Frightened, she obeyed.

He took her to his quarters, she said, and raped her.

Hours later, after she had returned to her tent, another officer arrived, she said. He raped her, too.

“The same day I was brought there, soldiers started coming to rape me,” Falmata said. “They did it one after another. I’m not even sure those two knew about each other.”

Rape has been a defining horror of the war with Boko Haram, which has consumed northeastern Nigeria for eight years and spread beyond its borders. At least 7,000 women and girls have endured Boko Haram’s sexual violence, the United Nations estimates. Militants kidnap and rape young girls, teenagers and women, handing them out as so-called brides who are sometimes passed from fighter to fighter.

But Nigerian security forces have also raped victims of the war, preying on the people they are assigned to protect. Dozens of cases of rape, sexual violence and sexual exploitation were reported in seven camps in Borno State last year alone, carried out by guards, camp officials, security officers and members of civilian vigilante groups, the United Nations says.

People lined up for food rations being distributed under military watch in Mainok village in Borno State, Nigeria. Dozens of cases of rape, sexual violence and sexual exploitation carried out by guards, camp officials, security officers and members of civilian vigilante groups were reported in Borno State last year.CreditAshley Gilbertson for The New York Times

More than a year ago, the Nigerian government pledged to investigate the allegations of rape in camps for people displaced by the war, saying that “these very distressing reports will not be taken lightly.” But accounts of sexual assaults in the camps are still common, including from young girls who say they were raped by soldiers on many occasions.

“The soldiers would come and hold me so tight,” one 13-year-old girl said in an interview. She said she had been raped about 10 times this year at a camp in Maiduguri, the city at the center of the fight against Boko Haram, before running away for her own safety.

“They were old enough to be my parents,” she said of the soldiers who raped her.

The Nigerian military has cleared parts of the countryside to hunt for Boko Haram’s hide-outs, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into huge settlements throughout northeastern Nigeria. Many other civilians have made it to the camps on their own after fleeing Boko Haram’s deadly assaults.

Most of the camps are overflowing, with new arrivals every day. Food and water are often in short supply, residents say, and health workers are battling a cholera outbreak that has killed dozens.

At night, the camps are dimly lit. Aid workers come during the day, but typically not after sunset because of wartime curfews. Security forces tightly control who goes in and out of the camps, sometimes coercing women and girls to trade sex for food.

Government officials say they need 24-hour security to protect the residents, especially since some of the camps are regular targets of suicide bombers deployed by Boko Haram.

But in one camp, called Teachers Village, some residents said the security forces had worked out a system to select their victims. Young women were called to cook for them. After the women finished, security officers insisted that they clean up, telling them to go bathe in the officers’ quarters as the men watched.

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“At first none of us knew they were doing this,” said Hadiza, 18, “but then the stories started to spread around camp that anyone cooking for them would be raped.” CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times

“At first none of us knew they were doing this, but then the stories started to spread around camp that anyone cooking for them would be raped,” said Hadiza, 18.

After living in the camp for several weeks, Hadiza said, she was picked to cook for the officers. She was terrified.

“Definitely my time has come,” she recalled thinking.

Later, she was asked to serve water to four security officers in their room as they dined. One by one they left, she said, until only one man remained. He dragged her into a separate room and raped her, she said.

Hadiza was injured, she said, but didn’t ask for medical care, fearing that the officers would seek revenge. She said she tried to keep a low profile for a couple of weeks, but officers spotted her and raped her again. She said she had been raped as many as 20 times in the camp.

“Once they identified you as a girl they wanted to have sex with, they would hardly leave you alone a single day,” Hadiza said.

By spring, word of the rapes at Teachers Village camp had spread so widely across Maiduguri that people began showing up at the gates to look for missing relatives. Distant relatives arrived for Hadiza and took her away.

Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari called for an investigation into sexual assaults at the camps after Human Rights Watch detailed the abuse in a report, ordering new measures to protect the vulnerable. Security officers have received more training, and at least 100 female officers have been deployed inside the camps. As a result, the number of complaints of sexual abuse has declined, according to some aid groups and the police.

The police have arrested several men for sexually abusing and exploiting women and girls, according to the United States Embassy. The arrests, made last December, include two police officers, a prison warden, two civilian militia members, a civil servant and three soldiers.

But an Army Special Board of Inquiry said in June that allegations against its soldiers at the camps were unfounded, while Jimoh Moshood, a police spokesman, said the investigations were continuing.

“Very little progress has been made by Nigerian authorities to implement President Buhari’s promise of justice for the survivors,” said Mausi Segun, the executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “The delay reinforces displaced people’s sense of helplessness, and likely emboldens more perpetrators to prey on their vulnerability.”

In the war with Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces have been accused of many human rights abuses, including killing innocent civilians and detaining children for months to determine their loyalties.

At checkpoints to enter Maiduguri, soldiers and militia members have turned away large groups of displaced people fleeing Boko Haram, unless they can pay an “entrance fee,” aid workers say. People escaping with their herds are sometimes charged a fee for each animal. Those who can’t pay the bribes have been sent back into harm’s way.

Inside the camps, soldiers and members of civilian vigilante groups have been accused of forcing people to pay for the privilege of setting up tents or leaky shelters made of tarps and grass. Some displaced people told Amnesty International that they had to sell their belongings to survive, and when they ran out of things to sell, they had to have sex with soldiers and civilian militia members to get food.

Falmata, the 14-year-old kidnapped by Boko Haram, said her ordeal began when she was in primary school, enjoying her classwork and dancing to local Kanuri music.

Along the Niger-Nigeria border, just like other areas where militants are active, hundreds of thousands of people are facing food scarcity.

Militants stormed into her home and took her while she was caring for her sick mother. They forced her to marry a fighter, but that man died in battle a week later, so they gave her to another husband. She tried to resist, so they gave her a third. Barely a teenager by then, she became pregnant, she said, but the baby died days after he was born.

One night, Falmata woke up and realized the whole camp was asleep. Now was the time, she thought. She ran until she reached a village, finding an older woman with a lantern who pointed her to a road. Soldiers spotted her and took her to Dalori Camp, a sprawling site outside Maiduguri.

She thought she was being delivered to safety — but immediately faced the same kind of sexual abuse she had risked her life to flee. And this time it was being committed by the people who were there to protect her.

During her two months at the camp, she said, security officers, not always the same men, came for her repeatedly. Falmata described the men as “soldiers,” but it was unclear if they were members of the military, the police or another security force. She said they carried weapons.

“I felt it would continue forever,” she said of the abuse.

She knew she had to flee, again, so she asked for a pass to go to the market. She walked out of the camp the same way she had escaped Boko Haram: alone, with no money and no idea where she was going.

As a little girl, she remembered, she had visited her grandmother once in Maiduguri, but she had only a vague idea where. Falmata spotted a man she had seen around the camp who spoke her dialect, and begged for help.

“Look, I have a problem,” she told him. “These people are going to kill me. They come to me every night.”

The two drove around the city for hours, trying to track down Falmata’s grandmother, asking everyone. Eventually, they found her. She had thought Falmata was dead.

Falmata now lives with her grandmother, but is too ashamed to tell her what happened. Someday, she hopes to continue her education and become a lawyer. She wants to represent the powerless.

I Developed AIDS At The Age of 22 From Someone In The Music Industry

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I met him in a nightclub parking lot in Houston, Texas. I was 19 years old.

At the time, I was a sophomore at Sam Houston State, planning to pledge Alpha Kappa Alpha and ride out my college experience. But, I was also at that point in life where I longed to have Prince Charming sweep me off my feet so we could live happily ever after. Admittedly, I felt that without this element of my life, I was incomplete. I was a broken, lost, and scattered soul – not at all prepared for what I was about to endure.

He was a well-known Houston area music executive. He was charming and well-connected and from the moment we met, we were inseparable. He introduced me to my first job in the music world as a promotions assistant and I eventually climbed the ladder and became a manager. Being around musicians wasn’t new to me. My father was a successful writer and I grew up around artists like Mint Condition and Prince. But the hip hop world was an entirely new beast, and I was completely submerged in it.

Our life was filled with power, sex, drugs, and strip clubs.

I got anything I wanted – designer clothes and shoes and entry into the hottest parties. I was rubbing elbows with the biggest names in music and the lifestyle pulled me in. So, when the cheating, lies, disrespect, emotional and mental abuse started, I had no exit plan because I constantly pacified the severity of our unhealthy relationship. Our relationship came to an abrupt end when I found out through a mutual acquaintance that he had impregnated another woman. That was the last straw and I finally left him.

A few months later, I passed out in the shower.

When I woke up, the paramedics were doing their best to keep me conscious. After being released from the hospital that day, I went back home still not feeling like myself. I had chills so bad, I was shaking like a leaf. I had a fever of 105 and I felt as if my body was starting to leave earth, and I was powerless to stop it. I tried over-the-counter medicines to bring my fever down, but nothing worked.

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Eventually, I was rushed back to the hospital where I fell into a partial coma.

This time, I was in the hospital for almost a month when my mother’s long-time physician walked into my room and stood over my bed. “So, about your AIDS virus,” the doctor said.

I looked at her in a panic of confusion.

I was on a breathing machine so words were not an option at the time. I could only shake my head over and over – no, no, no. She said I had full-blown AIDS and only 2 t-cells remaining. Things were not looking good for me. At that point, a million questions ran through my head. How will my life move forward? Will she tell my mother? When the doctor left my room, I immediately went numb. Before I could process everything, two social workers came in and asked me to write down all of my sexual partners. They handed me some forms and I felt like I was signing my life away.

A month and a half later, I was finally released from the hospital.

Immediately, my priority became advocacy. I never wanted another woman to feel how I felt the day I was given my diagnosis, but I didn’t know where to begin. Who was to blame? Was he to blame for being careless and abusive? Was I to blame because I chose not to ask his status? Either way, everything in my life was changing. I vowed to share my story with the world and inspire others about the importance of self love.

As my advocacy journey took off, I veered further away from my life in the music industry. A friend convinced me to confront my ex-boyfriend and share my truth. When I did, he was hardly receptive. Even as I walked away, he disrespectfully called out to me and said I should give him another chance because my ass got fatter. I was disgusted, but proud of myself for standing up to him, telling him what he’d done and showing him that he hadn’t broken me.

Now, I travel the country speaking to people of all ages about what it means to live with AIDS. I’m still baffled by the level of unawareness associated with the stigma of AIDS and HIV. Often, I get asked questions that remind me how far we have to go as a society to learn about this virus, which is the first step in eradication. I’ve been living with AIDS for 11 years and my virus is currently undetectable, which means that is is absolutely untransmittable.

People I encounter are often shocked that I’m still alive.

Did you take the same thing Magic Johnson took?

Are you rich? 

It’s still a little known fact that medicine has come a long way, and that staying on top of your medication and taking good care of your health can help people living with AIDS and HIV live long and happy lives without the threat of spreading the virus to their loved ones.

They are even more amazed to find out that I have a partner, and that we are planning a family together. It is possible, however, for those living with the virus to find love. It is possible to have a loving relationship with a supportive partner and also have the AIDS virus. I’m thankful to have a man in my life who, when faced with the reality of my situation, did not walk away. He came to the doctor with me, asked his questions, did his research, and stayed by my side.

Looking back on this journey, I don’t blame myself but I do take full responsibility for my part and for not loving myself enough to walk away from a man who was not worthy of me.

Not only do I dedicate my life to educating people on the facts behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but I also facilitate self love workshops. This is what it took for me to find this incredible understanding of my own power and of my unstoppable ability to push through.

We are never defined by the mistakes we have made, but by our ability to build ourselves up despite them.

December is National HIV/AIDS Awareness Month

Sultan Laments Trend of Drug Abuse Among Women, Youths

Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, NSCIA, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III on Thursday lamented the growing trend of drug abuse among women and youths, challenging the Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON) to use its platform in reversing the trend.

Speaking at the formal opening of SOGON’s 51st Annual National Conference in Sokoto, Abubakar who was the chairman of the occasion expressed serious concern over the ugly trend that is fast affecting public morality.

However, the conference tagged: SOGON- Sokoto 2017 has as its theme: ” Maternal and Newborn Health in a Challenging Economy.”

The revered monarch further advocated for the ban production, sale and consumption of such drugs that were being abused.

According to him” the trend is quite disturbing. How can SOGON use its offices to check-mate it even cough syrups such that one cannot just go to any chemist to buy such drugs”, he stressed.

According to the ‎royal father” We are going to table the issue during our meeting of traditional rulers. It will form part of the discussions to be held”, he said.

Earlier, Professor Brian Adinna, National President of SOGON) said no nation can develop and perform better without ‎proper family planning and effective provision of health services for women and the newborn.

He noted that maternal health was a sensitive aspect in health services delivery of any society.

According to Adinma, the theme of the conference was well chosen in view of the contemporary experiences and economic down turn affecting the health sector in delivering services.

He said women were more vulnerable to numerous health complications as cervical cancer, VVF among other related ailments.

According to him” SOGON is out to effectively ensure the reduction of maternal mortality ‎to the barest minimum.”

He further stated that the society has taken the responsibility to invite specialised partners from across the world to complement and update it’s focus towards addressing maternal mortality and child health challenges.

Adinma however, commended Governor Tambuwal for his various health projects and support in the state.

” We are aware of your giant strides in the establishment of basic health institutions, the community health insurance initiative and structures.

Similarly, he eulogised the unprecedented efforts of Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe state for his unequalled compassion for maternal and child health.

Highlights of the event were the ‎conferment of an honorary status membership on Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe state and the unveiling of SOGON’s Journal by Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal with a donation of N10 million each by the government’s of the two states while commending the Yobe state government for the resilience and courage displayed in achieving so much within the health sector in the midts of Boko Haram insurgents persistent attacks on the state in the last 6 years.

Also was the formal induction of 29 new members of SOGON at the well attended event witnessed by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, Deputy Governor of Sokoto state, Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu, wife of Kebbi state Governor, Dr. Zainab Atiku Bagudu Shinkafi, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Members of YOHA, Members HoRs, Emirs of Machina, Ngazargamu, ‎Jajere, Fika and Damaturu among other personalities that cut across all sectors including politicians especially from Yobe state.

Article Culled from The Nation Online

Journey to the North

By Binfa Kelvin Gono

Binfa Kelvin Gono

Binfa Kelvin Gono

"Congratulations guys, we are going to Maiduguri! So Binfa and Yusuf, I hope you are ready.” These were the words of Dr. Cynthia Ticao the Performance and Project Director at Gede Foundation. After months of hard work, careful planning and negotiations, it was finally time to depart for Maiduguri to help identify Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Needs of Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs). We were very excited about this project because of its potential at meeting and bringing help to displaced persons in Nigeria. 

After intensive training by Dr. Bonnie Kaiser, the day came for our departure. I can remember how emotional we became as staff came down stairs to bid us farewell. Within hours we were at the airport and boarded the plane to Maiduguri. Just like proud soldiers on a rescue mission, but this time around on a mission to represent the integrity and humanitarian ethics of GEDE Foundation in Maiduguri. I promised myself that I was going to enjoy every bit of my journey and my work in Maiduguri. I watched from the skies as I wondered how Maiduguri will look. How are the displaced persons coping? Will our work be a success or failure?  As I pondered on this, the pilot interrupted my thoughts with an announcement. “Please kindly put on your seat belt as we approach Maiduguri and will be due for landing in 15 minutes.” At that point the excitement within me turned into dread; will we be safe? What if something bad happens? As the thoughts began to trouble me I quickly shifted my eyes to the windows and watched the beautiful landscape of Maiduguri. I watched with keen interest and amazement. Within a few minutes, we landed at Maiduguri International Airport. 

The airport was old with a lot of military presence. The weather was uncomfortably hot but the smiles of the people were charming and heart warming. As we left the airport and drove towards the heart of Maiduguri town, I started having a contrasted view about the Maiduguri we see on the news and the Maiduguri I was seeing on ground. The city had beautiful street lights like the ones found in Paris streets. The road sides were beautifully inter locked as if seeing naked sand was a crime. Business activities looked normal just like any other city I have been to in Northern Nigeria. I could not hold back my curiosity as I kept on asking the driver questions upon questions as they run through my mind.

The following day we had series of meetings and trainings with our partner organization (Catholic Relief Services - CRS). By the third day we were due to go on our first side visit to the communities. As we drove off the city, we started seeing visible signs of the insurgency. Armoured tanks by major junctions, beggars littered every where, people were generally looking shabby than usual while thatched huts were all scattered along the road as we journeyed. I enquired about the thatched huts and was told that those were shelters for the displaced persons. How can someone live in that? I protested as if it was their fault. They looked at me with such eyes that seemed to say “you never see anything” connoting you are yet to see worst. By the time we were at the third community my eyes had seen enough of the discomfort and sufferings. 

Oh poor and wretched people, with a rich mother like Nigeria you are living in rags and calling dried grasses home. Young men were seating idle under the shade of trees with nothing productive to do. Elders looked with such curiosity and I guess wondered what we might have brought to support their plight. Children were looking at us like some radiant stars from the skies. Other children queued up under the hot sun as they waited turns to fetch water. I almost broke into tears as a young boy grab my hands to say hi. I quickly knelt to ask him his name, “Mohammed” he said, with a big beautiful smile. I looked into his cute eyes and was about to ask him how he was doing when he asked, “uncle can I say ABCD”? “Why not?” I responded. “A, B, C, D, ……..Z”, he missed some of the letters but did not care as long as I was listening to him. Other children quickly came around to say hi and recite English alphabets. My heart melted with such joy at the motivation of the children to learn. There is hope at last, I confessed within me.

With the site visits over, the team was eager for their work. Our first day at the field was a distressing one. Here we were eye ball to eye ball, feet to feet and hands to hands talking to the IDPs. Their stories were emotionally overwhelming. They lost love ones, properties, animals etc. Men and women broke down with tears as they shared their experiences. One of the participants noted, “we have been assisted with food but nobody has come to ask us these questions you are asking us.” During psychological debriefing of the research team, it was evident that the experience was hard on us all. I remember one of the research assistants asking me a question, “Mr Binfa, how are we supposed to listen to these people and can’t do anything to help.” It was a feeling of helplessness at the magnitude of stress and distress the IDPs pass through every single day for over three years. 

For the 7weeks we spent with the IDPs, we heard horrible stories, emotionally overwhelming stories, stories that can make a person sick for several weeks. How they are coping with these experiences is a miracle (hopefully the outcome of the research will help us better understand this).  However, mentally some of them are breaking down, attributing everything to God and showing signs of helplessness. For how long will they keep holding on, only time can tell! But one thing is certain, they need help and they need the help now. 

Sleepless Nights

Written by Zunzika Okpo

Some time last week, I read an article from the New York Times about how Boko Haram conscripted young girls. How they used these girls to recruit other girls and in turn, used the girls for reproductive and religious purposes. Needless to say, it was a heart wrenching read. I could barely bring myself to imagine what the girls went through and how strong they were. Imagine having a bomb strapped to your waist and instead of blowing it up, you seek for help. It is a scary thing for anyone, especially ones so young to go through. 

The article brought back some memories from the field. I have heard scores of stories. Most of them border on not being able to sleep, hearts pounding at the slightest noise and the ever present fear and dread. Of course there are even stranger stories. Even as most of the people in the IDP camps cannot sleep, there is one man who cannot sleep at night, only at night. His village was attacked at night. His whole family was asleep when they heard screams and people running. The man got up to check and saw the insurgents. Some of them were holding young girls, aged between 10 and 14. He ran to his children’s room and told them to hide under the bed and in the corner so they would not be seen. They did as they were told. The insurgents started pounding on the door. They were brandishing knives and some were sporadically firing their guns. Out of fear, the man opened the door for them. He had guns, knives and cutlasses in his face. He saw as the young girls that were with the insurgents went from room to room. He prayed they would not find his children. His wife was in their room with their youngest - barely a year old. As luck would have it, someone called from the outside and the insurgents left. They had scattered everything in his house but did not take anything or anyone - except for the man. When they took him, they inflicted all kinds of pain on him. They threatened to kill him, his whole family too. They told him they knew about his children and would go back to the village to find them and his wife. 

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They did not immediately say what they wanted from him. They did not explain why they beat him and threatened to hack him to bits; they just kept at it. He was tired, he was hungry and he was thirsty. He lost count of days. He recalls that they would stop beating him for a while and just as he was about to give in to sleep or pass out from exhaustion, they would be back. Day and night lost meaning. They then asked him to join them in service. He wondered what would happen if he refused. As he could barely talk, he only nodded. “He won’t be much use,” one of the men said in Hausa. This man was tasked with disposing off the body. 

He was careless thrown in a bush and left to die. He explained how he did not know where he was and how he just stayed there waiting to die. After what seemed like forever, some people came about. They seemed harmless. They poked him and he groaned. Everything was chaotic but they managed to get him to a hospital where they tended to him. He is OK now. The family reunited. The children are safe. Yet the father cannot sleep at night. He stays up every night looking outside. When day breaks, he goes to sleep. As long as the sun is out, he gets some sleep. 

'I like having a diagnosis but everyone can experience poor mental health'

In my 23 years I have been diagnosed with two mental health illnesses.

The first was OCD when I was 14, an anxiety disorder that can cause the individual to experience intrusive thoughts and a need to carry out rituals as a result.

 Before my diagnoses, I felt isolated and ashamed of who I was

The second was depression, following a break up and living 200 miles away from home at university in the South West of the UK.

Feeling alone without a diagnosis

Before my diagnoses, I felt isolated and ashamed of who I was. I felt like I must have been the only person on the planet who was experiencing what I was going through.

And even then, I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on what that was. A diagnosis showed me that what was happening to me had a name, it was recognised as something that could be treated.

In turn, this made me more open to treatment including medication. I saw it in the same way as I saw a physical illness: it needed treating to go away or to keep it at bay at least. This insight has been invaluable.

The positives of having a diagnosis

Having a diagnosis has equipped me with the tools to explain myself to other people.

I would say I have always been more anxious, more alert and on edge than others I know. For such a big period of my life I had no idea why that was which made me angry that I wasn’t the same as other people.

Now I know that I have a medical reason for my behaviour and it’s a reason I can use to help other people understand.

If I am having a particularly bad day, I can tell people that it’s because of my OCD.

There are webpages dedicated to the anxiety disorder that people can read and I feel as though it describes who I am perfectly. When I find it difficult to explain myself, I now have the back up of all that information out there that I never knew existed before.

Feeling ‘different’

Having a label has always felt important to me; I’ve always seen the benefit of having a diagnosis and a label that explains why I am the way I am but recently I have started to question: is this always a positive thing?

If I was to look at having a diagnosis from the flip side, it has only confirmed my suspicions that I am not a “normal” human being. Although having the label of “OCD” and “depression” has allowed me to normalise things for myself in terms of my experiences, I also feel that a diagnosis has made me feel an irregular, alien part of society. My behaviour isn’t what is classed as “normal” and so needs a name branded to it.

Linked to this point, I feel as though diagnoses can sometimes add to that taboo of there being two categories of people in life: the mentally well and the mentally unwell. People like me who have a diagnosis are lumped into the latter. But I would argue that these groups don’t exist. Sure, there are people with and without diagnoses but that doesn’t mean that you are either one or the other.

Everyone can experience poor mental health

Everyone is on a continuum.

It’s possible that everyone can experience poor mental health at some point in their lives

Some days we might wake up and feel terrible and can’t put our finger on why or we might experience a life event that in turn causes poor mental health. It’s possible that everyone can experience poor mental health at some point in their lives. It’s exactly the same as not always being physically well.

The idea that these two groups exists also feeds into the idea that those with a diagnosis are ill and need to get better. When we have been diagnosed, the very thing we want to achieve is “recovery.” But I would argue that my OCD will never go away and its makes up such a big part of who I am. Why do I need to constantly fight against that and strive to be what society deems as “normal”? Sure, I probably am a more anxious individual than the next person but don’t we need this mix of people in the world?

Maybe sometimes a diagnosis can just be reflecting a different way of thinking and being, not something toxic that needs to be tackled and eradicated.

I have always been taught that my way of thinking isn’t normal and that it needs changing which has only lead to me hating this part of myself

I now feel proud to admit this and scream it from the rooftops: my OCD IS part of me; it makes me who I am. I have always been taught that my way of thinking isn’t normal and that it needs changing which has only lead to me hating this part of myself.

But I don’t want to hate that anymore.

Instead, I believe that I can live alongside my OCD, listen to it, try to understand it, accept it and embrace it as part of my identity. My brain works differently to yours which means that I experience and to respond to stress in my own unique, individualised way.

And you know what? I’m perfectly ok with that. How boring would life be if we were all exactly the same?!

Article from Mental Health Today

Five Years Later...

By Zunzika Okpo

In the past week, Gede held more Mental Health Camps in the IDP camps. Our regular readers will know how our camps usually go but this time was a little different.

We encountered problems as soon as we got to the chief’s palace in one of the camps. It is not usually locked but on this day, it was. Users were already gathered outside the chief’s palace waiting for us. Our Psychiatrist for the day looked around and said, “well, we are here, we might as well do something.” So we gathered benches, plastic chairs and set to work. We set up our stations under various trees. We had work to do. 

We would usually see the same type of people with similar challenges. They cannot sleep, they are terrified, they keep having nightmares, they are worried about family left back in the North-East, etc. One woman, however, stood out. She was old, very old and did not have anywhere to sit. She was also very quiet. When she walked over to do her vitals, I could tell she was very frail and she also walked with a cane. When she went over to the doctor’s bench, her daughter in-law narrated her story. She had just very recently escaped from Boko Haram’s captivity. She had been held for over 5 years. The insurgents came to her village one day, burned everything, killed people and took the women and children. 

Whilst in their captivity, the old lady was put to work. She recalls making kunu (pap - a local Hausa drink) and taking it to the farmers working in the field. She was stopped by the insurgents who demanded to know what she was carrying. She informed them that she was simply taking the farmers something to drink. They seized the drink from her and took sips. It did not go down well as they claimed it was sour and she was trying to poison them. For this offence, the 79 year old woman was given 80 lashes. She continued living with the insurgents until one night during the Ramadan period it rained heavily. She claimed that when there were thunderstorms or rain, the insurgents stayed indoors. Therefore, she, and three others took off in the middle of the night, in heavy downpour and started their descent (they were held on a mountain). During the climb down, the old lady fell and twisted her ankle. To this day, she walks with a cain. Luckily for the four escapees, they made it to where the army was and identified themselves. They were then put in a camp where someone that knew her son was. The person got in contact with the son and told him his mother was still alive. After 5 years, the family assumed the worst - that she had perished at the hands of the insurgents. After all, she was 77 when they took her. 

The last thing she said was, “they don’t take any possessions, they don't want anything. They will burn and destroy everything in their path. They just want your life.”

The trauma that the IDPs have been exposed to is incomprehensible to someone that has not been through it. You would have to live through it to even begin to understand how they are all walking and laughing. It is a testament to people’s resilience. Hopefully through this and similar psycho-social interventions, healing and rehabilitation can begin.

For more on our activities, do come back to the blog!

 

GF's World Mental Health Day Coverage - Courtesy of Leadership Newspaper

Onukogu Kanayochuqu Jubal was a part of the World Mental Health Day seminar organised by non-governmental organisation Gede Foundation, in consonance with the Coalition for Global Health Awareness, on October 10, 2017 and writes on the modern struggle for peace of mind in the work place.

Very few know that hiring an employee, paying them and giving them emoluments is not all that is require of an employer. You need to provide a work-friendly environment and ensure they are free from the strangle-hold of mental encumbrances, so that the work does not suffer.

In the light of this, those who owe their employees, abuse them verbally or fail to create a conducive working environment must be doing them a great disservice and upsetting the balance of their mental cart, all to the detriment of their job and general productivity.

Every October 10 is World Mental Health Day and, in order to commemorate this year’s, non-governmental foundation, Gede Foundation, brought together the members of the Coalition for Global Health Awareness to talk about the issue, to a great extent.

The gesture, according to the foundation’s management, is part of efforts it is making to join forces in the campaign for mental health.

The issue this year was, simply, “Mental Health in the Work Place.”

According to a 2017 study on “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates” by the World Health Organisation, Nigeria has 7 079 815 cases of depressive disorders (3.9 per cent of her population), while another 4 894 557 suffer from anxiety disorders (2.7 per cent of her population).

Of the first group, 1 291 694 (7 per cent of that number) have live with it for years, while 451 762 (2.7 per cent) of the second group have live with it for years.

Clearly, there is little succour for sufferers; not when the National Primary Health Care Delivery Agency (NPHCDA) is ill-equipped to deal with the situation.

It was time to talk about mental health challenges in work places, away from the street, and a clinical psychologist with the Karu General Hospital, Abuja, Samuel Jinadu, was on hand to dissect the issue.

In his opinion, mental challenges which can be attributed to the work-place are real, but, sadly, hardly confronted.

“If you look at our work places carefully, you will notice that organisations neither have plans for nor do they support mental health issues that arise from the work place; they would prefer to be in denial and continue to dodge questions relating to this.

“Work place stress is real and cannot be swept under the carpet. Ask directors, managers, heads of human resources departments, construction workers, senior, junior and senior management staff or members of a company’s board. Stress is real and it is damaging more minds and psyches than we will ever know. Sadly, some people do not even know that they have it. They think they are just being natural or so. But they are not,” said Jinadu.

The psychologist further highlighted that, rather that indict employers of labour, the aim of the day remained highlighting a need for changes in the way the nation’s workplaces deal with issues such as stress, anxiety and mental illness, seeing as 1 in 4 of Nigerians will struggle with a mental health issue at some point.

“People are still too scared to speak to their employers about their concerns, for fear of being labelled or viewed as weak or incapable.”

Jinadu touched on a few signs as pointers to watch out for.

“If we do not watch out for one another, we will suffer, the work will suffer and, ultimately, the company or organisation will shut down and everyone loses.

“If you notice some of the symptoms in yourself or a colleague, something should be done as soon as possible.

“If you find that work or aspects of your work bring on or make these symptoms worse, speak to your line manager, trade union representative or your HR department. It may be that some action taken at an early stage will ease the stress and reduce or stop the symptoms.

“Normally, the symptoms are in three-fold. The emotional symptoms come in form of negative or depressive feeling, disappointment with oneself, increased emotional reactions which could be aggressive or otherwise, loneliness, withdrawn, loss of motivation commitment and confidence, mood swings (not behavioural), amongst others.

“The mental symptoms are confusion, indecision, loss of concentration and poor memory.

“The other signs is a noticeable change in normal behaviour, eating habits, increased smoking, drinking or drug taking ‘to cope’, mood swings effecting one’s behaviour, changes in sleep patterns, twitchy, nervous behaviour, being erratic by arriving late too early or leaving too early and too late.”

Jinadu advice employers and colleague at the work place to watch out for these signs, as they may be indicative of other conditions.

“If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, please, seek advice from a health practitioner. In the case of a colleague, try to convince them to see their doctor,” he further advised.

While Jinadu avise for closer observation of self and others, the founder of the Youth Reformation & Awareness Centre, Margaret Udoh, called for an up-scaling of advocacy to policy makers, law makers, schools, families and, even, the judiciary.

“We should go back to our homes and know the strengths and weaknesses of our children, as far as their studies and emotional intelligence are concerned.

“That way, we can guide them to the right career path, to avoid stressing their young minds.

“Also, in schools, we should have proper career counsellors and bring our parents up to speed on the things they should know about this,” Udoh echoed.

Ameh Zion, who works with the Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative, thinks that the key lies in legislation.

“The things which are wrong and have to be made right, as far as mental health is concerned, are enshrined in the Mental Health Bill. Until it is passed, a lot will be shrouded in secrecy and, even when it is passed, we would need some vibrant, active advocacy and education to help Nigerians deal with it and not stigmatise sufferers,” he opined.

Emmanuel Okafor of the Centre for Constructive Leadership & Development International, called for more foundational effort, in order for the campaign to gain more traction.

“We should take our advocacy beyond government, have health clubs in foundation schools, tertiary institutions and in our homes. Even the Legislature passes the bill, there would be a lot to be done. The best way would be to begin from the roots, the schools, so that when the bill si passed, we can move right up. We are the only ones who can understand the language of the sufferers, because they are here amongst us. Until we begin to realise that this thing has to be tackled, our children will continue to guess what is wrong with them, stigmatise other children who have mental health challenges and, even when they become adults, not know how to go about the issues at stake.”

But Jinadu insisted that stress in the work-place can be handled, if a few pointers are practically taken into consideration.

“First off, identify the signs through self-awareness, observation of muscles and breathing exercises. Also, reducing stress through self-care (exercises, socialising an connecting with others, taking breaks or some time away and making healthy food choices can help a great deal.

“However, there a few things which people easily take to when they are highly stressed. Do not take pills or drugs to relax, do not take to smoking or drinking, because they can be easily abused. Practice safe sleeping habits, look for humour and enjoy light moments, attend socio-cultural events and create a balance schedule.

“Above all, know when to say ‘no’ to your superiors. You could get yourself into a health quandary by always trying to prove your commitment; people die and the work remain.”

But is stress that bad? While many would answer with a resounding “yes” right away, the performance director, research & advocacy of Gede Foundation, Cynthia Ticao, Ph.D, does not share that opinion.

“Sometimes, we should stop to think about how boring a life without stress would be. Stress is alright, because, sometimes, it brings out the best in us, but you need to know when it is taking a toll on your health or family.”

She said the workshop is one of the ways the foundation is working to create nation-wide awareness for mental health issues, by getting a mental health kit for women, children and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North East.

She assured that a lot is being done by the foundation, through working partnerships with professionals and organisations to do more and “take real help to the people who need them.”

The search for peace of mind in these days has driven many into the arms of clinical professional, many of whom have found themselves victims of the issues they are trying to help, as well.

According to Dr Jennifer Udekwu-Braimah of Intensive Rescue Foundation International, it is proof that care givers are not immune or super people.

“Care givers are the frailest and most vulnerable. When they see the kind of trauma which those who have mental health challenges go through, they could be affected adversely.

“As scary as the situation is, though, we have a way of relaxing after marathon schedules.

“We sleep at the slightest break, watch interesting shows, form strong bonds with families and colleagues and protect ourselves. We really are the most vulnerable, technically speaking and have to do these little things to protect and watch out for our own well-being,” she said.

Whatever way the wind blows, it is clear that many have taken to seeing clinical psychologists and all other types of mental health professional, in order to save their minds and bodies. What is yet unknown is how early we can all come together to agree on the issue and how much damage it can do to a nation, one mind at a mind.

After all, acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it, they say.

The Dark Side of Resilience

Article culled from Harvard Business Review

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Derek Lusk

Resilience, defined as the psychological capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances and to bounce back from adverse events, is a highly sought-after personality trait in the modern workplace. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant argue in their recent book, we can think of resilience as a sort of muscle that contracts during good times and expands during bad times.

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In that sense, the best way to develop resilience is through hardship, which various philosophers have pointed out through the years: Seneca noted that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body” and Nietzsche famously stated “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” In a similar vein, the United States Marine Corps uses the “pain is just weakness leaving the body” mantra as part of their hardcore training program.

But could too much resilience be a bad thing, just like too much muscle mass can be a bad thing — i.e., putting a strain on the heart? Large-scale scientific studies suggest that even adaptive competencies become maladaptive if taken to the extreme. As Rob Kaiser’s research on leadership versatility indicates, overused strengths become weaknesses. In line, it is easy to conceive of situations in which individuals could be too resilient for their own sake.

For example, extreme resilience could drive people to become overly persistent with unattainable goals. Although we tend to celebrate individuals who aim high or dream big, it is usually more effective to adjust one’s goals to more achievable levels, which means giving up on others. Indeed, scientific reviews show that most people waste an enormous amount of time persisting with unrealistic goals, a phenomenon called the “false hope syndrome.” Even when past behaviors clearly suggest that goals are unlikely to be attained, overconfidence and an unfounded degree of optimism can lead to people wasting energy on pointless tasks.

YOU AND YOUR TEAM SERIES

Resilience

Along the same line, too much resilience could make people overly tolerant of adversity. At work, this can translate into putting up with boring or demoralizing jobs — and particularly bad bosses — for longer than needed. In America, 75% of employees consider their direct line manager the worst part of their job, and 65% would take a pay cut if they could replace their boss with someone else. Yet there is no indication that people actually act on these attitudes, with job tenure remaining stable over the years despite ubiquitous access to career opportunities and the rise of passive recruitment introduced by the digital revolution. Whereas in the realm of dating, technology has made it easier for people to meet someone and begin a new relationship, in the world of work people seemed resigned to their bleak state of affairs. Perhaps if they were less resilient, they would be more likely to improve their job circumstances, as many individuals do when they decide to ditch traditional employment to work for themselves. However, people are much more willing to put up with a bad job (and boss) than a bad relationship.

In addition, too much resilience can get in the way of leadership effectiveness and, by extension, team and organizational effectiveness. In a recent study, Adrian Furnham and colleagues showed that there are dramatic differences in people’s ability to adapt to stressful jobs and workplace environments. In the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances, some people resemble a superhero cartoon character that runs through a brick wall: unemotional, fearless, and hyper-phlegmatic. To protect against psychological harm, they deploy quite aggressive coping mechanisms that artificially inflate their egos. Meanwhile, others have a set of underlying propensities that make them act a little differently when under stress and pressure. They become emotionally volatile and scared of rejection. And consequently, they move away from groups, put up walls to avoid being criticized, and openly admit faults as a way to guard against public shaming.

Even though the resilient superhero is usually perceived as better, there is a hidden dark side to it: it comes with the exact same traits that inhibit self-awareness and, in turn, the ability to maintain a realistic self-concept, which is pivotal for developing one’s career potential and leadership talent. For instance, multiple studies suggest that bold leaders are unaware of their limitations and overestimate their leadership capabilities and current performance, which leads to not being able to adjust one’s interpersonal approach to fit the context. They are, in effect, rigidly and delusionally resilient and closed off to information that could be imperative in fixing — or at least improving — behavioral weaknesses. In short, when resilience is driven by self-enhancement, success comes at a high price: denial.

Along with blinding leaders to improvement opportunities and detaching them from reality, leadership pipelines are corroded with resilient leaders who were nominated as high-potentials but have no genuine talent for leadership. To explain this phenomenon, sociobiologists David Sloan Wilson and E.O. Wilson argue that within any group of people — whether a work team or presidential candidates — the person who wins, and is therefore named the group’s leader, is generally very resilient or “gritty.”

However, there is something more important going on in human affairs than internal politics, and competition within groups is less important than between groups — such as Apple going head to head with Microsoft on technological innovations, Coca-Cola trying to outmaneuver Pepsi’s marketing campaigns, or, in evolutionary terms, how our ancestors fought for territory against rival teams 10,000 years ago. As Robert Hogan notes, to get ahead of other groups, individuals must be able to get along with each other within their own group in order to form a team. This always requires leadership, but the right leaders must be chosen. When it comes to deciding which leaders are going to rally the troops in the long-term, the most psychologically resilient individuals have a miscellany of characteristics that come much closer to political savvy and an authoritarian leadership style than those needed to influence a team to work in harmony and focus its attention on outperforming rivals. In other words, choosing resilient leaders is not enough: they must also have integrity and care more about the welfare of their teams than their own personal success.

In sum, there is no doubt that resilience is a useful and highly adaptive trait, especially in the face of traumatic events. However, when taken too far, it may focus individuals on impossible goals and make them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances. This reminds us of Voltaire’s Candide, the sarcastic masterpiece that exposes the absurd consequences of extreme optimism: “I have wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but somehow I am still in love with life. This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our more stupid melancholy propensities, for is there anything more stupid than to be eager to go on carrying a burden which one would gladly throw away, to loathe one’s very being and yet to hold it fast, to fondle the snake that devours us until it has eaten our hearts away?”

Finally, while it may be reassuring for teams, organizations, and countries to select leaders on the basis of their resilience — who doesn’t want to be protected by a tough and strong leader? — such leaders are not necessarily good for the group, much like bacteria or parasites are much more problematic when they are more resistant.