“People think mental illness is a matter of mood, a matter of personality. They think depression is a form of being sad, they think the soul is sick not the body, it is, they believe, something that you have some choice over”. However, what we fail to acknowledge is that mental illness involves this and more.
Mental illness consists of a wide range of disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behaviour, usually associated with distress in one’s personal, social or occupational life. Biological changes may or may not be involved.
As a fact, we consider reality and abnormality in different perspectives. And so, before we can call an abnormality a mental illness it has to fulfil these themes: deviance, distress, dysfunction. A deviant behaviour is one that is unacceptable to a particular culture. Behaviours and emotions that cause distress or negatively affect the individual’s daily activities causing dysfunction are considered abnormal behaviour.
However, voluntary maladaptive behaviours are not considered a psychological disorder. Normality and abnormality exist on a continuum. It’s a matter of degree, not an either-or proposition. Some examples of abnormal psychological behaviours are hallucinations, delusions and depressive mood.
Hallucinations are perceptions in the absence of an external stimulus such as hearing voices when no one is actually speaking or seeing vivid images when there is nothing to be seen. Delusions are fixed usually false beliefs that do not change even when a person is presented with conflicting evidence. For example, one believing that one is the Messiah come to save the world.
You are not depressed when you feel sad for a day or two but rather when you experience a prolonged period of sadness with other associated symptoms that interfere with your ability to function and causes distress. Depression is associated with an imbalance in neurochemicals such as norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain.
According to the WHO, about one million people worldwide commit suicide every year, that is one death every 40 seconds, about 90% of those show signs of mental illness before death. Over 2 million people in Ghana suffer from some form of mental illness and that’s an estimated figure because of insufficient data and limited research.
According to the Accra psychiatric hospital, depression constitutes 40% of all reported cases with about 1 in 10 having contemplated or attempted suicide. Mental illness has been on the rise in Ghana as a result of stressful life situations. Schizophrenia and psychosis are the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in Ghana. Four in ten people who suffer from schizophrenia attempt suicide.
Suicide is death caused by self-directed injurious behaviour whiles suicidal ideation is thinking about, considering or planning suicide. People are less likely to report suicidal ideation, hallucinations or delusions due to the negative attitude towards mental illness in Ghana. It is expedient that religious leaders and family realize that mental illness is an organic disease just like hypertension and not a spiritual disease. We should encourage people to be open about mental illnesses as they could live a normal life with treatment.
Suicide often is desperate attempt to escape unbearable suffering and they often see no alternative to death. People who attempt suicide are not crazy and it also a myth that talking about suicide may give someone the idea. We should take suicidal talk seriously as it is often a cry for help.
Most suicidal people give signals of their intention, any talk of death or hopelessness should not be taken for granted especially if the person suffers from some form of mental illness. When talking to a suicidal person, one should take the person seriously, show that you care, offer hope and get the person help. We should never blame or argue with a suicidal person. “Life has its ups and downs, keep on swinging”.
The writers are students of School of Medical Sciences at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)