NAIROBI, Kenya, May 24 – Challenges with mental health can affect the whole spectrum of society from a young person struggling in school, or a colleague absent from work, to an elderly relative living with dementia.
The medical fraternity assures us that many mental health problems are preventable, almost all are treatable, so that those affected can either fully recover or manage their conditions successfully and live healthy, happy and productive lives.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as ‘a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of disease or infirmity’.
People living with mental illness (particularly severe mental illness) are frequently stigmatised, shunned, and excluded from mainstream society. This is especially true in Africa those with schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder and epilepsy are frequently subjected to human rights abuses. They are often cast aside because of beliefs that these conditions are signs of demon possession or evil spirits.
Mental illnesses can be traced back to a myriad of Adverse Childhood Experiences commonly known as ACEs. ACEs can impact an individual’s health and well-being, as a child and later as an adult with consequences that affect entire families, communities, and the whole society.
The month of May is marked as the mental health awareness month around the world. Dr. Margaret Sirima, the Nairobi Hospital Health Sciences Principle said: “One of the least talked about risk factor for impaired mental functioning is adverse childhood experiences which contribute significantly to both childhood and later mental illnesses.”
Speaking the Capital’s Health and Self segment, Dr. Sirima said, “ACEs, such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, are considered negative exposures that have a broad impact on child development and on the occurrence of mental health problems later in life.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ACEs account for 29.8% of all psychiatric disorders. Within the widely used main categories, eleven ACEs can be distinguished: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; and household dysfunction, which can be subdivided into growing up in a single parent family, domestic violence, family members’ police contact, drug and alcohol abuse, and psychological problems of a family member.
Young adults with severe childhood problems are at increased risk of unemployment, early parenthood, delinquent behaviour, and substance abuse. Preventing ACEs should be seen within the wider context of tackling societal inequalities. While ACEs are found across the population, there is more risk of experiencing ACEs in areas of higher deprivation.
Dr Sirima however says it’s not all doom and gloom for individuals who have been affected by ACEs, “There is much that can be done to offer hope and build resilience in children, young people and adults who have experienced adversity in early life.”
The Nairobi Hospital’s Psychiatry Department offers support and treatment to ensure good mental health for all. Dr Sirima concludes that for a child, good relationships, starting with early attachment, create the setting for good mental health and resilience.