INTERVIEW: More Nigerians risk mental breakdown over country’s chaotic conditions — Psychiatrist

Dr. Bolanle Ola

Nigeria has been in chaos for several weeks with unending queues at fuel stations, poor power supply nationwide and increase in prices of commodities, even water.

Dr. Bolanle Ola, a Consultant Psychiatrist and head of psychiatry department, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, tells PREMIUM TIMES there’s likely going to be negative impact on Nigerians’ mental health as a result of the country’s chaotic conditions. Thus, more people risk mental breakdown.

PT: The country has been in chaos for several weeks. There are unending queues for fuel, no power supply and commodities’ prices, even water are increasing daily. Would these socioeconomic occurrences have psychiatric consequences for Nigerians?

Bolanle Ola: There is likely to be. There are certain persons who have mental health issues in the country. They are already diagnosed or they meet the criteria even if they are not accessing care. Then there are some people in the high risk group, and there are those at medium or low risk.

One can conceptualized it that way. Usually, what brings about psychological or mental health breakdown is usually one with vulnerability. Let’s say the gradient of the risk is now exposed to some stressful situations which we may call life events.

Then the interaction between that person’s vulnerability and the stress can lead to mental health breakdown. If we look at environmental factors like poverty indices and the stress level in the society, like certain socioeconomic indices, or political such as the increase in the cost of fuel, not only the cost, but the time you spend in getting the fuel, the stress of getting to work, some people may not be able to get to work while others may not be able to feed themselves, these will increase the stress level such that the people who are vulnerable even if at medium risk might be shifted to high risk situation or higher vulnerability.

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So, there is likely going to be a negative impact on the mental health of the population. The country’s chaotic condition may put more people at higher risk than before.

PT: Like what kind of mental health conditions are Nigerians likely to come down with?

Bolanle Ola: Life situations may not particularly cause a particular mental health condition really. When there’s someone with a likelihood of breaking down, it would happen. How he breaks down is what will lead into different diagnosis. But then, there have been some mental health surveys for sometime. And there are common mental health conditions particularly depression and anxiety. When the stress level is high in the society, you could see an increase in the incidence of people who will have depression and anxiety. And it’s been found out that depression and anxiety are the commonest mental health conditions globally. This same picture also holds for Nigeria.

PT: What can Nigerians do to prevent coming down with any of these mental health conditions notwithstanding the present situation of the country?

Bolanle Ola: People need to understand their sources of stress and deal with them. If it is a public health issue, you can deal with it individually and policies prescribed by government can also come be of great help.

PT: What can Nigeria do as well?

Bolanle Ola: I think what Nigeria could do is to implement policies that will prevent some of these flare in oil prices. The mental health trends/risk of people in our society is not being monitored adequately. There is no policy supporting that research so we don’t even know or see the mental health trend of the population particularly the vulnerable groups like the adolescents, youths and people at work. There is a need for all these to be monitored in association with political changes that are going on in the society. But it’s been noted that even at the place of work, the job demand there has changed. So, there’s a lot of pressure on people. In some societies, it’s been found out that the stress levels are high so people are breaking down mentally.

PT: In essence, are you saying what we regard as sudden and poor employee attitudinal changes are superficial but beneath are mental health challenges?

Bolanle Ola: Sometimes, what employers or people see will not be the real health problem. They just see that there’s absenteeism, there’s loss of productivity, and a lot of conflicts at work. But when you look beneath some of these things, you find out that some of the reasons why these are coming about is because people are having challenging mental health issues.

PT: So, what should people, including employees do as preventive measures?

Bolanle Ola: Mental hygiene such as having adequate sleep, being able to identify source of stress and limiting their exposure to such source of stress are very crucial preventive measures. They have to try to live without a lot of noise…

PT: How possible is that with generators and religious centres taking over the environment?

Bolanle Ola: Yes, when people have to put on generators there’s a lot of heat. and noise. But the government needs some input because if power supply were constant we won’t put on generators and so many people won’t have to go buy fuel in jerry cans. It is something that has to come from the government even while Nigerians are trying on their own individual level to deal with the stress.

PT: What place has stress coping mechanism in all these?

Bolanle Ola: Even while there’s increased stress in the society, some people are able to adapt to it because of the way they perceive the situation. Usually, before stress can turn into a problem, it depends on the interpretation the person going through it gives to the situation bringing the stress. If the person is interpreting it negatively, the person is likely to fall down unlike the person who sees it as a challenge he is to overcome.

PT: Are you saying there aren’t situations that no matter the interpretation, are bound to breakdown the interpreter?

Bolanle Ola: There are certain situations that are in gross conflict with one’s human right. We need access to good environment that’s why I am saying the government also needs to come in. For instance, you go to a fuel station, instead of selling the fuel, we wait endlessly on queues, then some people come, they call them VIPs and they get fuel immediately and go. That will also increase Nigerians’ frustration level.

PT: Is there no place for coping mechanism even in the handling of frustration?

Bolanle Ola: There is. People being able to attend to their frustration level with positive attitude and reactions will also have some threshold. However, even if they can manage some other things, there are some sociopolitical barriers that could go against that. On individual level they could do some certain things like going for anti stress management courses in their places of work. But the political sector needs to put somethings in place that would be anti stress like providing good roads and other means of transportation such as tubes so we don’t have to rely on our cars to get to work. These would take much stress off Nigerians so they don’t feel the effect of the downturn in oil price as they rely on electricity. These are concentric circles that work together and ensure things go well.

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