‘‘I am bipolar,’’ he murmured casually... John (not his real name) was my ideal man. He was always happy (the clown in our circle) who could turn any depressing situation into a joyful moment, the person we would run to when we needed things done, the man I was longing to hear every single day, this handsome guy who would give me the butterfly in my stomach because he always said the right thing. I was in love with his brain and weak when he smiled. Bipolar was the last thing I expected to hear. Shocked? Surprised? Scared? Confused? Not sure of the emotion I had- it was after all over 10 years ago, but I remember being speechless for a moment. How could a man be so blunt about such a condition? Didn’t he know this could make me run away? I admired his honesty but was scared of what it meant.
In Africa, they are many interpretations of mental disorders. Demonic disorder, social deviance, weaknesses and illnesses are the most common. Mayo Clinic describes mental disorders/illnesses as: ‘’ disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior… Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.’’ Unfortunately, not many people are as honest as John was, and many more are dating and marrying individuals with mental conditions or raising children who could be experiencing the same, without knowing it and providing the needed care. In this article, we will be highlighting some of the signs to watch out for in individuals and the various treatments available.
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A/ Disorders
1. Schizophrenia
Also known as the lepers of the 20th century, statistics indicate that 1% of the world’s population suffer from schizophrenia. The common symptoms are hallucinations (hearing voices), delusion (irrational belief. Eg: believing he/she is the President of the republic or is being prosecuted), disorganized speech and behaviors, absence of normal cognition and unresponsive to surrounding. In childhood, the symptoms could include language delays, late/unusual crawling and late walking, while in teenagers, a drop in performance, withdrawal, inability to sleep, substance use among others. Schizophrenia can be triggered by the environment, as early as from birth, or could be developed later: - Early: difficult birth (oxygen deprivation) and prenatal infection - Later: due to stress, difficult situation and family environment
2. Mood disorder
The most common types of mood disorder are depression and bipolar. As indicated above, many people have mental health concerns, but a person suffering from mood disorder can be severally depressed for many weeks. Statistically, the illness tends to affect more women than men, however, there is also the fact that men rarely speak about it. Mood disorder can be heritable. Some common symptoms include: persistent negative thoughts(believe that nothing can ever change), suicide, frequent move from mania (extreme happiness) to instant depression, lack of pleasure, loss of appetite and lack of sleep.
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3. Anxiety disorder
Anxiety can be experienced by everyone but it becomes a disorder when it is irrational, uncontrolled and disruptive. Anxiety disorder is a constant feeling of fear and apprehensive. It can be divided in 3 categories: generalized anxiety disorder (constant worry about issues), phobias (irrational fears over situations) and obsessive compulsive disorder commonly known as OCD (irrational obsession, disturbing thoughts). Some physical symptoms include: headaches, stomachaches, irritability.
4. Disassociation disorder
Have you ever watched a movie where one of the main characters begin to loose his identity and every memory he had of himself? Well, this is a typical case of disassociation of memory. People with this condition forgets everything, and only remembers under special cases such as hypnosis. There exists several types of disassociation that range from temporary, selective to permanent loss of memory, identity replacement and multiple personality disorder.
5. Personality disorder
A personality disorder refers to different personality types, ranging from paranoia to narcissism, dependency and anti-social personality disorder. The most common symptoms include: sociopathy, psychopathy, selfishness, impulsive, promiscuity, loyalty, guilt, anxiety and being easily bored.
B/ Therapy
They are many therapies to manage these conditions. This article is by no means a way to tick the box and make assumptions about everyone you come across to. Being able to identify certain characteristics and seek help is the objective of the post. You may suffer from these problems or know someone who is, and understanding the underlying causes is important to protect and save lives. They are 4 types of therapy commonly advised to individuals suffering from mental illnesses, these are:
1. Psychodynamic therapy: include dream analysis and aims at revealing the unconscious content of an individual. 2. Behavior therapy: admitting a client into psychiatric hospitals to alter dangerous behavior.
3. Cognitive therapy: the most popular therapy is one where the patient speaks to a therapist and try to correct behaviors.
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4. Medical interventions: use of medication to manage mental illnesses. Generally, this includes:
     4.1 Antipsychotics for patients dealing with schizophrenia
     4.2 Antidepressants for patients dealing with mood disorder
     4.3 Electroconvulsive therapy: using electricity through ones brain
   4.4 Transcranial magnetic stimulation: a technology that involves electrical energy into the brain, with some promises in treating disorders such as depression.
Does therapy work? Is the ultimate question. Having done it for many years, I would confidently say yes for those who are committed to it. However, it is also important to take note of regression in certain cases. Mentally challenged people must fight their way through every single day. Mental illnesses, like any other illnesses, are unfortunately detected when symptoms appear. However, to treat it, a therapist must identify the underlying causes. The success of the sessions depend on a variety of elements. Being mentally ill is not a death sentence and seeking help is the beginning of self-acceptance and an opportunity to become the person you admire. You can see a therapist between 500 Kshs to 4,000 Kshs per session, in Kenya, in both private and public hospitals as well as private institutions. ANYONE can have a mental disorder. “Having a mental disorder isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when people assume you can just ‘get over it’.” John and I never dated. We remained good friends to date. His first marriage was to a dramatic and selfish woman. This worsened his situation and John had to see a therapist for one year. He later remarried to a wonderful woman, and I was the maid of honor :-)
We did not date but my family got bigger.