While I tend to my physical health every other day, I’ve realized I need to give just as much attention to my mental. There should be no tradeoffs.
In the last few years, conversations surrounding mental health have become more common than it was several years ago. This can be linked to a myriad of reasons: the pandemic-induced lockdown which forced everyone indoors, affording us more time to reflect and check in on our loved ones, a worrying rise in the rate of reported suicide cases, acknowledgement of depression as a medical condition and so on.
One thing that has really stuck out to me is how people are more comfortable discussing their struggles with mental illnesses publicly. Whether it's in person or online, either through funny Tik-Toks, tweets or regular Instagram posts it's quite refreshing to see. Even though spaces for people with various mental illnesses have since existed, being open on a human level with people helps in seeking out and embracing these spaces. In turn, these public spaces have also given professionals like licensed therapists and medical practitioners a platform to reach out to lots of people struggling with different forms of mental illness or just tips on how to better manage your mental health. Even though this might come with its own problems ー there’s really no filter and there is a lot of good and bad advice out there ー in my own experience, I’ve found that it’s generally done more good than harm.
Admittedly, some progress has been made generally in terms of prioritizing mental health, but in a country like Nigeria, there’s still a long way to go. A large number of the population still regard mental health as a ‘white man’s worry’. There’s a popular belief that only those who are well fed and live a decent life worry about their mental well-being. In truth, this isn’t completely unfounded. According to a report by the world bank, 4 out of 10 Nigerians live below the poverty line. Many Nigerians face unending strife, there’s a nonstop need to find the next meal, the next school fees, the next bus fare. And while adverse environmental circumstances sure place a strain on both your physical and mental health, many Nigerians have to somewhat prioritize. It is, however, important to realize that your mental health is just as important as your physical health and there shouldn’t be priority when it comes to these two things.
An increasing rate of reported suicide cases, mental illnesses and depression put into perspective just how important our mental wellbeing is. The World Health Organization reported that the highest number of depression cases in Africa is from Nigeria. And while many people prioritize tangibles like food, shelter and physical health over intangibles like mental health, it’s important to know that mental illness can manifest itself physically. Research shows that mental illness can often manifest as physical symptoms. Depression can cause headaches and other body pains, anxiety can prompt gastrointestinal problems while post-traumatic stress disorder can cause nausea, fatigue and other physical problems.
As someone with a mental illness myself, I cannot say I am well equipped to give the best advice on mental health and the ways to handle these issues. Like many others, I am learning every day about my condition and how to better manage it. My first experience in therapy was at university and I have not had a therapist since graduation. I have also been figuring out a lot by myself and I am well aware that it is a continuous learning process, not one that I will automatically become an expert at. Some things ー like struggles with work and family ー will always trigger bad mental health days for me as well as for many others. Surrounding myself with loved ones, and creating a peaceful and happy environment helps keep me going through extremely difficult times. While I tend to my physical health every other day, I’ve realized I need to give just as much attention to my mental. There should be no tradeoffs. When I was much younger, I fantasized a lot about giving up and still do to this day. However, I am learning that intrusive thoughts do not inherently define me, they are just a consequence of the imbalanced chemical reactions in my head.