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Societal Perception of Mental Health among Nigerian Women

According to W.H.O (World Health Organisation), health can be defined as both physical, social, emotional, and mental well- being of an individual. This definition elucidates that being healthy can not only be justified or portrayed by physical appearance, being healthy involves the mental and social well-being of an individual. Now one may wonder, what are the causes of mental illness? Although, there is no particular cause that can be capitalised as the root of mental illness. However, there are many situations and occurrence that may lead to mental illness one of which is very common in Nigeria, depression. Other causes of mental illness are emotional distress, mental stress, brain tumour, bitter experience, and so many more. Women go through a lot at every phase of their existence. Beginning from the puberty stage, to menstrual flow, being a wife, being a mother and most importantly, a working mother. Nigerians, especially men, think that women exaggerate when it comes to the issue that surrounds them but this is not true. Women, especially working family women, multitask on a daily bases. From preparing breakfast, grooming the children, attending to work/business, she barely has time for herself and no one notices. Women suffer mental stress but scared to complain because the society will tag her as a lazy or an irresponsible woman.

So far in Nigeria, people have not been sensitized well enough on mental health in women and how it should be handled within the society. From a pen holder point of view, mental illness happens to anybody. Let’s look into the issue of single mothers. Up until this moment, single mothers have always been stigmatised and regarded negatively in the society. Meanwhile, she finds it difficult to have her own husband just because she has a child probably from a failed relationship. She is not accepted therefore she wants to do everything to be successful enough to take care of her child. In situations when she is not able to meet the needs of her child, there are lots of chances that she would break down and feel depressed. Same goes for divorced Women. The moment a woman walks out of her marriage, she becomes a laughing stock in the society. Hence, she becomes troubled and uncomfortable which may lead to depression. Depression in Nigeria is being addressed however, we have not been able to avoid the cause of depression amongst women.

This is not to say that married women do not go through mental stress too. Married men are not ridiculed or attacked when they complain of mental stress. The society will be so quick to support and commend him for providing for the family and ensuring the family is protected. Then, what about the woman who wakes up early enough to bath her children, make breakfast for the family, prepare herself and her husband for work, and still go to work after all? Married women hardly complain or ask their husbands for support based on the myth that “it is not a man’s duty”. Our society has placed so much importance on the mental well-being of the men folk, not considering what a woman is going through within her head as a result of multi-tasking. Husbands need to be sensitive about the well-being of their wives. Also men has to be supportive and provide tender love and care (TLC) to their spouse. This way Women will be assured of their mental well-being
The Nigerian government and societies also have a lot to impact when it comes to mental health in women. First, the grassroots needs to be aware of their power to save a woman from mental illness. One of this power is acceptance. Women especially divorced or single parent, find it difficult to be accepted in the society because of their current situation. However, the society needs to be educated on accepting a woman’s choice or situation. It is not always a woman’s choice to be divorced or a single parent, sometimes she just finds herself in the uncontrollable situation.

Another way the society can save women from mental illness/stress is through care conversation. Care conversation involves communication and listening skills to ask questions and help women make informed choices about how they would want to be supported during their time of distress. If no member of the family or society is capable of handling care conversation, then such woman should be referred to a psychologist, counsellor or psychiatrist, as the case may be.  However, Nigerians fear to consult these set of professionals so as not to be stigmatised or tagged “MAD” in the society
It is important for Nigerians to acknowledge the fact that women go through mental stress and depression therefore women who bear the symptoms should not be left unattended to. Interestingly, patients with mental illness needs more attention than someone who is suffering typhoid and any other physical illness. Sadly, this is not the case in Nigeria we can only hope that the future holds a better and enlightened society for us.

By Mrs. Adebanjo Ayomide Temitayo.


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