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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Diseases of the mind: What is mental health?

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The world health organization describes mental health as “ a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” and that it includes “ subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others”. There are many definitions of but they key information in each definition is the free state of the mind from thoughts and feelings that negatively affect the mind’s normal functions.

Mental disorders

Growing up in the neighborhoods as a child, I always pictured a person in torn clothing, in a poor hygienic condition roaming bare footed while making weird gestures and movements whenever mental health is mentioned. It was always a case of clapping and singing “ dofo dof” while walking miles accompanying a mentally disturbed person whenever they pass by. Thank God I grew out of that as I aged and pursue a career in the medical field; in fact I regret those actions. I have realized how not cool it is to make fun of people with mental disorders.

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 Mental health disorder is a seldom talked about problem that remains rampant yet not given the attention it is due. Just as there is physical health, there is mental health. Just as physical health related problems impact a person’s ability to walk, talk, run etc, mental disorders impact a person’s ability to think, perceive, etc. it is a well established fact that an individual’s mental health can impact their physical health and also their relationships.

  Mental health disorder is defined as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood for a sustained period of time that negatively affect them. Here in the Gambia, it could be suggested that mental disorders have been too trivialized or not held in the same esteem as physical health disorders.

Some common mental illnesses

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Mental help includes an extensive range of disorders but here are a few common ones:

Anxiety disorders: anxiety disorders are made up of a group of mental illnesses that causes a sustained exaggerated fear and anxiety. While it is perfectly normal for anyone to experience some sort of stress and anxiety at some point in life, some others are so overwhelmed by it that it disrupts their day to day lives. The uncontrollable excess worrying disrupts their normal daily functions. The different types of anxiety disorders are:

·           Generalized anxiety disorder; a general feeling of restlessness or unease without any apparent reason.

·           Panic disorder; aa sudden intense feeling that causes a panic attack which may manifest as sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, muscle tension etc.

·           Social anxiety disorder; the fear of being judged negatively might be so daunting that affects their normal function. It affects their confidence, self-esteem or even doubt their own abilities.

·           Phobias; an extreme or irrational fear of something. There are many types of phobia. Agoraphobia is the fear of crowd or crowded areas such as markets, social ceremonies and the like. Astraphobia is the fear of thunder and lightning. Acrophobia is the fear of heights. The list goes on.


Depression is a very common serious mental disorder that negatively impacts the daily lives of its sufferers. Depression makes a person feel low and can lead to feeling hopeless and in some cases, giving up on life itself (suicidal).Depression is documented to Cause a negative impact on the cardiovascular system. It causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. This is in relation with the release of cortisol, a steroid hormone that is released by the adrenal gland during moments of stress and depression. Notable symptoms of depression include: helplessness or hopelessness, feeling worthless, lack of pleasure in things that were once pleasuring, withdrawal for public, suicidal thoughts or action.

·           Schizophrenia: it is considered a syndrome, meaning it encompasses a number of related disorders which vary in symptoms. A person suffering schizophrenia may have disruption of their thought processes, emotional expression and perception of reality. Schizophrenics usually have problem mingling with the public. It could be either at home, work, or any other place where people come together. Schizophrenia involves a psychosis, a type of mental illness I which a person can’t tell what’s real from what’s imagined. The symptoms of schizophrenia include:

·           Delusions: are firm false beliefs which are held strongly despite contrary evience. For example a person with delusions may believe that people can hear their thoughts or people are plotting against them.

·           Hallucination: it is a perception without any stimulus, be it auditory or visual. They are sensations that aren’t real; seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. Examples include hearing voices of people insulting or commanding you, seeing dead relatives calling on you, etc.

·           Disorganized thinking: this refers to disorganized speech in which a person can’t think clearly or respond as expected. It involves saying things that don’t make sense, shifting quickly from one thought to another with no logical connection, indecisiveness, forgetting or losing things, among many other symptoms.

·           Early signs of schizophrenia are seen men in their late teens or early 20s. It mostly affects women in their early 20s or 30s.

·           Negative symptoms of schizophrenia: negative symptoms do not necessarily mean bad, they are symptoms that are not commonly seen in people with schizophrenia. These symptoms include: Lack of emotions, withdrawal from social activities, and lack of motivation, feeling low, poor hygiene and grooming habits.

Complications of mental disorders

Mental disorders worsen with time if left untreated for a long period of time. Mental disorders do not get well better on their own, so interventions are required to enable recovery. Chronic mental disorders can bring about a wide range of unpleasant experiences including:

·           Suicidal or homicidal tendencies

·           Legal and financial problems.

·           instability in daily life, relationship difficulties and social isolation,

·           Heart disease and other associated complications

·           Substance abuse:  It is regrettable seeing our young able youths helplessly wandering the streets, wasting their youthful years, years which should have been the peak of their productivity, condemned to insanity by some of the wrong decisions they make.

·           Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life.

·           Poverty, family conflicts and homelessness

Risk factors

There are some factors that are associated with an increased risk of developing a mental disorder:

·           A positive history of mental illness in a blood relative

·           Personal history of trauma or traumatic experience

·           Use of alcohol or drugs.

·           Childhood history of abuse

·           Stressful life situations, such as financial problems.

The way forward

Pay attention to the warning signs of mental disorders because the first signs of some mental disorders are sometimes subtle and may be very easy to miss. But once the first signs of a mental illness are detected in an individual, it becomes very important to have an open and honest conversation about it. You should register your concerns and convince the individual to seek psychotherapy. Psychotherapists explore thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and seek to improve an individual’s well-being.

Researchers have shown that stigmatization is the biggest hurdle stopping people with mental disorders from coming forth and seeking help as they fear being ridiculed or stereotyped. So  please let us unite and end the stigma around mental health.

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