Discrimination against mentally challenged persons can push them to suicide, psychiatrist warns


A Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Dr. Abayomi Olajide, says discrimination against mentally challenged persons should be discouraged, warning that using stigmatising words on them could make them commit suicide.

Olajide said passing critical comments on persons suffering from mental illness was totally unacceptable, stressing that such comments were not good for the mind.

Besides exposing them to the risk of suicide, the psychiatrist cautioned that when mentally challenged persons are stigmatised, they become vulnerable to relapse.

Olajide who is the Public Relations Officer, Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, spoke with ugamatv in commemoration of the 2021 World Mental Health Day.

The mental health expert advised those in the habit of using abusive and derogatory words on mentally challenged persons to desist from the act while reminding them that just as people develop physical illness, they could also develop a mental disorder. 

Olajide explained, “When you stigmatise people with a mental disorder, you make them more vulnerable to relapse and have the illness back.

“People should stop passing critical comments on them. There is what we call high expressed emotion. 

“Studies have shown that wherever a mentally challenged person is being exposed to high expressed emotion, the person can come down with another illness despite using medication.

“And what do we call high expressed emotion – hostility from people; passing critical comments like you are mad, you are crazy, you are an idiot.”

Continuing, the psychiatrist said, “All those words are not good for the mind. Those words can actually worsen the outcome of mental illness. 

“When you hear people who have mental illness committing suicide, these are some of the things that push them into it. 

“This is because they think that everybody in the neighbourhood doesn’t seem to tolerate them. They are in the public, they cannot go out; in the house, there is trouble. 

“At some point, some of them just feel they have come at a crossroads and will take their life.”

According to him, people need to know that mental disorder exists in all society and the vulnerability or predisposition is indeterminable.

“We need to recognise the fact that just as people can develop hypertension, people can also develop a mental disorder. And when it happens, the table can turn around to anybody. 

“Let me give you an example, with the current situation in the country, the act of kidnapping, banditry and terrorism, studies have shown that in societies where these kinds of things thrive, the prevalence of mental disorder could even double.

“Currently, we put the prevalence of the mental disorder in this country to about 30 per cent,” the mental health expert said.

Olajide observed that with the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism, kidnapping, famine, escalating prices of commodities, people living in fear, and being pushed into poverty, the prevalence would be higher. 

He noted, “With poverty, we could be recording 50 percent of mental disorder in Nigeria. 

“Meaning that maybe one in every two Nigerians is living with mental disorder and this mental disorder is of different categories. 

“In places where there are banditry and terrorism, people have come to develop anxiety problems, phobia, panic attacks and traumatic experiences. 

“People are living with depression and somatization disorder.”

He pointed out that a lot of people are depressed without even knowing that they are depressed.

The psychiatrist counselled, “We all need to know that anybody can develop mental illness. We need to support people that live with a mental disorder. Stigma worsens the outcome of mental disorder.”

He urged that employment be given to mentally challenged persons particularly those ones that have been treated and are stable.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated annually on October 10. It is organised by the World Federation for Mental Health and endorsed by the World Health Organisation.

According to WHO, the event represents a global commitment to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

The theme of the 2021 World Mental Health Day is “Mental Health in an unequal world”, with the slogan, “Mental Health for all: Let’s make it a reality”.

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