Mental illness can be managed.

Persons with mental illness can successfully manage their symptoms, recover fully and may never have any other mental health related challenge for the rest of their lives. This is especially true for mild and moderate conditions, like anxiety and depression. More severe conditions may require longer treatment, but affected persons can live their normal lives and attain their potentials as long as they are regularly taking their medications and treatment.

Are the drugs for mental illness available?

A:Yes, they are available.

What should we do when our family  member or friend has a mental illness?

  • Don’t abandon him/her. No, we should care for him/her, support him/her and courage him/her to receive treatment.
  • Take him/her to a nearest counseling center or institutions that provide mental health care.

Are people with mental illness violent and do they pose a threat to society? 

A: No, research has shown that the most violent people suffer from mental illness. Individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence and physical abuse/maltreatment than for them to be the perpetrators.

In our Sierra Leonean society, like in most African states, mental illness is most often seen as mysterious occurrences that can create fear in the minds of people. But with scientific advancements today, we now have greater understanding about the cause and treatment options for various types of mental illness. However, the stigmatization of mental illness and individuals/families who suffer from these problems persist in our communities, with various misconceptions still very commonly held.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a health problem that causes disturbances in perception, belief, thought, processes and mood. It is a spectrum, ranging from mild conditions, like anxiety disorder, to the more serious psychotic states.

Some common causes of mental illness.

Stress: Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy.

Trauma: A person is traumatized when something horrible happens to him or someone around him that endangers safety, e.g., rape, war, torture or natural disasters.

Loss and Death: When someone close to you, either in the family, home, or work place, dies.

Signs and symptoms of mental illness.

  • Difficulties with sleep.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Abnormal thinking patterns or speech.
  • Extreme ranges of emotions which are persistent (e.g., lasting for more than two weeks).
  • Becoming excessively withdrawn, losing interest in usual activities and so on.

Types of mental illness

Depression: Severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. A condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life.

Anxiety: A general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave, and they can manifest real physical symptoms.

Alcohol and Drugs Dependence: A psychiatric diagnosis (a substance-related disorder) describing an entity in which an individual is  addicted to alcohol, either physically or mentally, and continues to use  despite significant areas of dysfunction, evidence of physical dependence, and/or related hardship.

Schizophrenia: A chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that has affected people throughout history.

People with the disorder may hear voices other people don’t hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated.

Acute or brief psychosis Characterized by distortion of thinking and perception, inappropriate or narrow range of emotion, incoherent or irrelevant speech, hallucinations, excessive or unwarranted suspicion. It is caused by severe abnormalities of behavior, such as disorganized behaviors, agitation, excitement and inactivity/over activity.

How common is mental illness?

A: It is very common, with every 1 in 5 persons on this earth, at risk of developing one mental health problem or the other, during their life time. However, most of these problems are usually mild conditions.

Are people born with mental illness?

A: No, even though some families may inherit a risk of the illness, they may not be afflicted by the illness. However, problems during pregnancy, delivery and early life may increase the risk of developing mental illness in the future, especially if there is some damage to the brain. It may also develop in adulthood, even without any family history of such in the past.

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