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.