Growing up Nigerian and as a black person, the term 'mental health' wasn't in our vocabulary not to talk of learning how to take care of your mental health. We were just supposed to take on the everyday struggles of Nigerian living head on especially as boys transitioning to men. Oh you feel depressed? You'll be seen as an ajebo which in this context will mean 'soft'.
The only thing mental health related we mentioned was insanity when referring to the 'mad people' who were beyond shabbily dressed, most likely homeless and picked up food from the ground. They were considered to be either victims of drug abuse or spiritual attacks. For the former they were not to be pitied and used as deterrent stories of the life we were not to lead and for the latter they were pitied and used to reinforce the importance of prayer and watching our backs.
Fortunately, these days the conversation is slowly changing, it's not quite where it should be but baby steps are more than welcome. This post was inspired by some issues which someone I consider my little brother is going through and it's affecting his mental health and a story about a Nigerian man who slipped into depression and subsequently died due to 'unemployment anxiety'.
What is Mental Health?
According to the WHO, it is "... a state of well-being in which the individual realises 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."
The WHO stresses that mental health "is not just the absence of mental disorder."
Physical vs Mental Health
In the past, mental health always got its ass handed to it by physical health like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago in Rocky but these days with more mental health awareness the tides are turning and tables are shaking lol.
The question is... which is more important? I believe your mental health is more important because you can't perform well without it. A good example is Warren Buffet who eats junk food basically every day even at his age but his mental sharpness is not to be played with. Even physical activities like sports have a mental element to them and when your mental health goes down due to an intense game it can affect your sense of judgement and performance.
Some Mental Health Statistics...
The WHO estimates that about 4% of Nigerians have depression. An estimated 20%–30% of the Nigerian population are suspected to suffer from mental disorders. "This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million" (see Annals of Nigerian Medicine).
"Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish" as I mentioned in the beginning (for more info see Nigeria Health Watch).
Some Early Signs of Failing Mental Health
Before something real bad happens and we regret why we didn't check up on someone close to us for one reason or the other, here are some early signs of failing mental health that should have you concerned according to Medical News Today:
- [Being under frequent considerable stress] (see 5 Tips for Dealing with Stress)
-Smoking and drinking (especially when they normally don't)
-Using drugs more than normal (especially non-prescribed).
-Withdrawing from people or activities they would normally enjoy.
-Sleeping or eating too much or too little.
-Feeling as if nothing matters.
-Consistently low energy.
-Being unable to complete standard tasks, such as getting to work or cooking a meal.
-Thinking of harming one's self or others.
Some Mental Health Problems...
There are several common types of mental health problems but for the purpose of this article I'll only talk about two which are anxiety disorders and mood disorders.
1. Anxiety Disorders: The individual has a severe fear or anxiety, which is linked to certain objects or situations. Most people with an anxiety disorder will try to avoid exposure to whatever triggers their anxiety (see5 Tips for Overcoming Fear). Examples of anxiety disorders include: panic disorders, phobias, OCD, PTSD, etc.
2. Mood Disorders: These are also known as affective disorders or depressive disorders. Patients with these conditions have significant changes in mood, generally involving either mania (elation) or depression. Examples of mood disorders include: major depression, bipolar disorder, persistent depressive disorder, etc. (for more see Medical News Today).
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health
Disclaimer: I'm not a medical doctor in any way shape or form, I don't even think I've ever worn a white lab coat so take my advice with a grain of salt. These tips won't work for everybody but I hope some will if not all and you can tweak them to suit you.
01. Practice Continuous Self-Care
In a book I read I saw something along the lines of self-care is the greatest act of selflessness because as a leader you need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others. I believe this and that's why during an airplane's safety drill they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. Staying true to the logo of Evergreen Lifestyle Gems, self-care is important and to be important it's more-or-less an umbrella term for all the other tips I'll be giving.
Self-care doesn't have to be grandiose, it isn't a 'go big or go home' situation it can be the little things. You can treat yourself by going to the spa, take yourself on dates, avoid frequenting noisy places, sleep with the lights off, indulge staying in silence, step away from your devices once in a while, go for walks, read, sit on a bench enjoy the cool breeze and watch the river flow or just sit in the park, look up at the stars and wonder, or you can do stuff you'd normally only do during vacation like going to the beach. etc. Sometimes, self-care just involves doing kid stuff.
02. Avoid Excessive Intake of Alcohol and Other Drugs
Alcohol has its place in our lives, it's seen as the 'adults party beverage' but we don't only use it for partying, we use it to get Dutch courage which helps us become more confident when we're under the influence or even as a means of escapism. You may think that alcohol or drugs help with your problems but they only add to it or mask a deeper issue.
An example is with my last English Literature and Communication Skills teacher, Mr A. who told us when he started teaching he was so scared and insecure (see Beefing Up Your Security: How to Overcome Insecurity) that he'd employ some Dutch courage before going to class and it continued for a while until he put his foot down and changed for the better. Imagine if he continued down this path he'd have had 2 problems on his hand for the price of one.
The recommended weekly intake of alcohol per week according to Drink Aware is max 14 units please don't go overboard try to stay under 14 units if you have to drink. If not, it can be the case where you get addicted and you'll suffer from substance abuse which is a mental health problem. In this case prevention is better than cure because treating an addiction is way harder than preventing it, any difficult situation such as a break up and you can slip back into the addiction or bad habit (see How to Break Your Bad Habits).
03. Place Great Value on Yourself
The way you treat and carry yourself will largely determine how others treat you. If you're a Prince but you treat yourself like a pauper people will most likely treat you that way in return. You must treat yourself with kindness and respect, avoid harsh self-criticism (see How to Combat Your Negative Thoughts & Quieten Your Inner Critic).
If you don't value yourself and tell yourself that 'your price just went up' who will? You need to be your own hype man/woman, use affirmations like 'I'm sexy and I know it' like that L.M.F.A.O. song or 'I'm fearfully and wonderfully made' or 'I believe in myself' and sure enough and soon enough you'll carry yourself in that manner. One effective way to value yourself is to find out what you're good at, your gifts and talents and your value will go up like it's the stock market! Another way is to manage your time properly because it reflects that you value yourself (see The Clock is Always Ticking: 13 Time Management Tips).
Honestly, having low self-esteem or confidence levels is quite sad (see 12 Tips to Boost Self-confidence and Self-esteem) even though it may be caused by others but ultimately you have to value yourself. I think suicide is usually caused by a crazy drop in self-esteem or confidence levels among others things as can be seen in the controversial show on Netflix 13 Reasons Why. Just know suicide is never the answer even though you think it may be.
04. Quieten Your Mind
Your mind can be busy and full of noise like traffic on Third Mainland Bridge or like the loud streets of New York or London which may mean you're overthinking (see 9 Ways to Tackle Overthinking). It can also be less busy like a village street and I believe your mind needs both but when you're mind is moving too fast and too loud like a power bike it may be time to tell it to shut up like Stormzy and slow down like Bobby Valentino.
How can you do this? You can meditate, "research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy". Use mindfulness tactics that can help declutter your mind or even prayer which can give you the immeasurable peace of God. These practices can improve your state of mind and outlook on life.
05. Set Realistic Goals
Fantasy has a place in our lives such as in movies and our imagination but definitely not in goal setting or planning. Unrealistic goals will make you less likely to act or just put you on a wild goose chase, leaving you mentally tired and sucked dry like a vampire with nothing to show for it.
You must clearly decide what you wanna achieve in various areas of your life such as work, school or in your personal life. You should aim high but be realistic don't be like Icarus and his son who flew too close to the sun with wax wings and they got melted and sent both of them crashing down (correct me if I'm wrong).
As long as your goals are realistic and clear amongst other things (see How to Set Your Goals and Smash Them) and you have a good plan (see 11 Steps for Creating an Effective Plan) you're golden. When you achieve these goals you'll end up feeling a lot better and having a 'YES! I DID IT!' moment which obviously is good for your mental health and self esteem.
06. Practice Daily Gratitude
As the old hymn goes 'count your blessings name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done'. Gratitude is definitely a way to stay happy, when you can spend time seeking out what you're grateful for you'll be able to sniff out reasons to stay happy like a police dog. If you're in a bind and maybe thinking you've not done enough just sit down and look behind you, look at all what you've achieved, it may surprise you.
Even if you've achieved 'nothing' and may seem you've lost it all, try looking for what you're grateful for, the Bible said in all things give thanks. In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale (NVP) recounts an episode he had with a man who thought he lost it and that was the end when asked his what he was grateful for he said nothing but NVP asked what about his wife, kids, friends, the U.S.A etc, he said he was very grateful thus changing his outlook.
When you start practicing gratitude please don't stop because you're doing the needful and you should grab a journal where you write out your daily entries of gratitude. Don't wait till thanksgiving in your church or the national holiday, make it a daily habit.
07. Get Enough Rest
How can you take on the world without a good night's rest, huh??? Get your 8 hours! Sleep is very therapeutic and can even give you a fresh perspective when dealing with a persisting problem. In the popular song Trading My Sorrows the infamous line 'all the sorrow may last for the night but joy comes in the morning' comes to mind even though it was used figuratively, I've discovered that after a good night's rest I feel better and can solve my problems better.
Sleep can affect your mood, body functionality, even your immune system and recovery process. In a study carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiological Catchment Area, "the risk of developing new major depression was much higher [for those with insomnia]...compared to those without [it]". In the same study, 40% of their participants with insomnia and 46.5% of those with hypersomnia (sleeping too much) had a mental illness.
The relationship between getting adequate rest and reducing the risk of mental health problems can't be overlooked nor overemphasized. I believe this because pulling those late nights in uni doing coursework or reading for exams left me feeling drained, the stress was just heavy.
The greatest thief of sleep is stress and about two-thirds of Americans say they lose sleep due to stress. It's sad because sleep fights some of the fallout of stress, and poor sleep has been linked to significant problems such as weight gain, greater susceptibility to depression/anxiety, reduced immune system functionality, etc. For more visit Mental Health America.
08. Positive Thinking
The power of positive thinking is real and positive thinking will bear positive results. Your thoughts are the wires of your mind and will give light to your ideas. How you think will also reflect on how you feel, you can say that your feelings are the mirror of your thoughts. Positive thinking doesn't mean that you won't get rejected (see I Put Myself Out There and She Rejected Me! How to Handle Rejection) but optimism is the weapon of a winner.
I've only read 30-something worth of pages of NVP's book the Power of Positive Thinking but there's been great value in every single page! He talks about his encounters with various people and how their thinking was actually the problem and nothing else, for example a man who was always dreading something bad happening and it lowered his quality of life.
He gave some affirmations which he said must be repeated daily like 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' or 'if God be with me who can be against me' etc. and if you've read the world famous book, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne then you'll be familiar with the mantra 'thoughts become things'. When you have a positive outlook, (see Your Attitude is The Problem! Let's Fix It!) you can fight the good fight and come out victorious eventually.
09. Spend Quality Time with Loved Ones & Care for Others
Our family and friends make us happy, they increase our quality of life together we smile, we laugh, eat, drink and face problems together. Make sure you go BBQs and enjoy the remaining time for sun this summer. When we care for them it makes us feel better and vice versa (all things being equal) and this is good for your MH. Those that can be there for us during difficult times can make all the difference in our lives.
You can also extend your caring hands to people who may not be able to show it in return. You can volunteer at an old folks home, your local primary or secondary school or church. Being part of something bigger than yourself really helps, it makes you feel better and more productive.
So, what happens when your friends and family are the cause of your pain and not a safe haven? Well, if the problems persists...
10. Seek Professional Help
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness and you shouldn't be ashamed; that means you've acknowledged a problem and are now seeking a solution. Imagine you're stuck in a dark hole with no way of escaping on your own will you not scream for help? From my understanding MH problems can be this way when you've fought the good fight by yourself for too long you may get tired and may not know what to do anymore.
You can visit a therapist, who some see as a 'paid friend' without judgement and you can unload all the mental trash that is polluting your mental environment and help you live a better life. If it develops into a proper MH illness you can visit a psychologist or perhaps a psychiatrist. If the problem still persists I have one last ultimate solution...
11. Get Closer to God
God is our creator and who knows how you tick better than your creator? You can tell him anything so in a way he's your therapist. Remember my little bro I told you about in the beginning? After telling me his story and what he's struggling with I told him to get closer to God. He said he's being praying but hasn't got an answer I was taken aback and I told him praying doesn't absolve you of doing the work you know the popular Bible phrase 'faith without works is dead'.
Well, after reading NVP's book I have another reply which is the depth of your problem should reflect the depth of your prayer. It doesn't mean you'll get the answer you want and it may seem quiet but you gotta keep trying, this can be your last resort (usually is) or even your first or second.
Just keep trying and do your part, pick up the Bible, read it with intent and intensity. It isn't gonna be an easy ride but when God's peace fills you up everything else pales in comparison like the wine Jesus made from water vs the one they we're previously serving at the wedding.
QOTD: "You can't control everything. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen" - Kody Kiplinger
WELL, THAT'S IT FROM ME, GUYS! NOW...
Remember to TAKE ACTION because to know and not to do is really not to know. So, what do you do to take care of your mental health? Do you agree or disagree with my tips? Comment below. Share this on social media alongside my infographic (download it!) because sharing is caring! SUBSCRIBE to my blog so you don't miss a thing and to get instant access to my free e-books.
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My name is Ofai and I'm passionate about blogging and it gives me fulfillment that I can help you out so sit back, relax and enjoy your weekly carats of #SelfImprovementGems with me!