Within the next few weeks, I will be addressing the issue of prevention of mental illness as much as possible on this platform. I will be sharing with you from my experience as a mental health professional, and also, as a Nigerian. In Nigeria, we have our own peculiar beliefs about, and interpretations of what we have limited knowledge of.
One of the questions I have received is to address the issue of how we can prevent mental disorders.
It is fundamental that we can’t discuss prevention without mentioning some of the things that cause mental illness or disorder. The term “illness” is a subjective expression of an underlying disease. It is possible for someone to be very “ill” and refuse to admit that they are ill. Specifically, a lot of people who have a mental disorder, fail to adopt the sick role. This prevents them from seeking help early enough to forestall deterioration of their condition. The stigma attached to mental disorders also makes family members feel ashamed of coming forward to seek available help. The word “disorder” sums up a cluster of behaviour or traits that are considered to be deviations from what is acceptable as being the norm within the context. Clusters of behaviour are then named as disorders to ease description, communication, and treatment.
Mental disorders present with abnormalities of thought, feeling, speech, behaviour with a resultant inability to relate with others and maintain individual status and attainment of general goals. The goals could be personal or with respect to the individual’s relationships (family, occupational and social).
The brain is the centre of control of everything that keeps us alive and makes us human. This brain (like any organ of the body) can be diseased. Anything that affects the brains structure and(or) function will influence the individual’s personae. The normal brain begins to develop from about the 3rd week of pregnancy.
As the foundation for the eventual adult brain is laid in the womb, anything that goes wrong could eventually result in a disorder.
- For instance, some errors or aberrations can occur during fertilization. These could present with some syndromes after the child is born. Some of these might be due to no fault of the parents. Others might be due to incompatibility of the determinants of life that is contributed by both parents during fertilization.
- While the fetus is in the womb, any serious illness in the mother can (potentially) adversely affect the growing baby in the womb. Infections (Viruses, bacteria, worms, and other parasites, etc) can be transmitted from the mother to the child through the placenta.
- Mothers who are living an unhealthy life are directly putting the mental health of their unborn child in jeopardy. Unhealthy lifestyles include smoking, drinking alcohol, drug abuse, poor diet, failure to attend antenatal care, self-medication and refusal to get treatment for any illness promptly.
- By the time the child is being born, any injury to the brain that is allowed to occur due to a badly managed delivery process will almost always present with deviations in the child’s development and behaviour eventually. The process of delivering a baby begins with contractions of the womb. This process is supposed to be monitored by trained qualified personnel. Some pregnancies that are considered to have low-risk of being complicated should still be attended to by a midwife. The midwife is trained to be able to anticipate problems and transfer the mother quickly for other expert intervention. The intervention can be assisted delivery by instruments or surgery which could range from simply widening the exit of the birth canal, to outright opening up of the womb to bring out the baby. The goal is to bring out the baby through the fastest possible route. The brain needs oxygen to function well. The repeated contractions of the womb reduce the oxygenation of the fetuses’ brain. If this is allowed to last for too long, it could irreversibly compromise some of the functioning of the brain later in life.