…lack of knowledge, lack of information and stigma concerning mental health treatment continue to be a barrier to seeking therapy. Consequently, instead of suggesting that a person suffering from a mental health disorder seeks help in many instances, he or she is taken to a house of worship, where the “cure” involves attempts to drive out the demons…
Mental health disorders are conditions that affect people’s mind (thoughts), feeling, mood, and behaviour. They may be occasional or chronic. They can affect one’s ability to relate to others and function well. Like ordinary physical diseases, mental health disorders have objective causes and require specific treatments. The help-seeking process has multiple steps, including recognising that there is a problem. So deciding on external help and contacting mental health specialty providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, family therapists and/or psychiatric nurses) become very necessary.
The recognition that there is a problem is neither easy nor automatic, and it represents a formidable barrier to accessing care. Many people resist recognising that a problem exists. In most cases, these issues are aligned with a spiritual or diabolical factor – a belief that could seriously mar proper diagnosis and treatment.
Folklore permeates many African cultures, for example, and the majority of them believe that mental disorder results from sorcery. Some Christians are of the belief that unusual behaviour or mental disorders are caused by the devil, demons and evil spirits that have taken possession of a person’s mind and body.
Moreover, lack of knowledge, lack of information and stigma concerning mental health treatment continue to be a barrier to seeking therapy. Consequently, instead of suggesting that a person suffering from a mental health disorder seeks help in many instances, he or she is taken to a house of worship, where the “cure” involves attempts to drive out the demons which possess the unfortunate victim’s body and soul.
Since mental health disorders may increase the risk of physical violence among married couples, it has become necessary that before people get into romantic and/or marital relationships, they go in for mental health evaluations and personality assessments first. Some people get married to persons ridden with insecurities, and are deranged, without knowing it.
Some are stuck with people who drain them mentally and physically. Others are married to unfaithful spouses who infect them with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other debilitating ailments, without any form of awareness and support mechanisms. Such instances continue to cause major challenges to the strength and survival of the African marriage institution.
Markedly, psychological evaluations should be intricate parts of comprehensive medical examinations, where need be. Whereas, people have the right to choose who to date, marry or spend their lives with, it is important that they take precautions to ensure such decisions are not deeply footed in avoidable health challenges.
The following medical tests -, chronic medical conditions, including epilepsy, hepatitis, diabetes and some types of cancers among others, Human Immunodeficiency Viruses (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), fertility issues, genotype and blood group compatibility tests – should be a requirement before any couple makes the final decision to get married and/or have children.
It is also vital to have knowledge of a spouse’s or partner’s mental health state, to enable them make informed decisions, and ensure they do not enter into a relationship that could be marred by the negative effects of mental health disorder such as intense physical violence. Some mental health conditions are hereditary and may be passed down to offsprings. It would only make sense therefore that these diseases are put in check before having children or where a cure is not possible, a couple can make the choice not to repeat the cycle by having children with mental health challenges.
Markedly, psychological evaluations should be intricate parts of comprehensive medical examinations, where need be. Whereas, people have the right to choose who to date, marry or spend their lives with, it is important that they take precautions to ensure such decisions are not deeply footed in avoidable health challenges. Most importantly, care should be taken to ensure that children are not born out of a union where the likelihood of such suffering is imminent. The need for mental evaluation before marriage cannot be overemphasised because, in the end, it benefits the family, while the society in general is better for it.
Psychological evaluation is a testing method through which a trained clinician acquires data about a person’s cognitive and emotional functioning for purposes of determining cognitive ability. It also involves diagnosing a mental health condition and/or identifying depressed or psychotic persons or confirming a diagnosis and guiding clients through treatment modalities.
Often, symptoms of a psychological disorder are obvious, such as a child experiencing learning difficulties and having social problems at school. Some of these children may not receive an evaluation and would go through life and adulthood, never knowing why they had difficulties with people skills, as well academics. There are also adults who struggle to maintain personal and professional relationships due to anger issues. However, there are many other factors (disease or organic causes) that could lead to these problems, in addition to mental health disorders.
Here are some common types of mental health disorders and the signs that clinicians assess in clients:
Depression: characterised by pessimism, lack of hope in the future, and a general dissatisfaction with one’s life;
Paranoia: characterised by moral self-righteousness and suspiciousness, delusions of grandeur or persecution;
Based on the rate of domestic violence and behavioural issues in many African families…it is important that mental health screening and services become a matter of routine health service provision. It is also very critical that governments, health care agencies licencing boards regulate mental health services within the realms of only certified professionals…
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): characterised by uncontrollable, recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make individuals feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions);
Schizophrenia: characterised by bizarre, unusual thoughts or behaviour, social alienation (withdrawal), hallucinations, delusions, poor familial relationships, lack of deep interests, sexual difficulties, and many more;
Bipolar Disorder: characterised by unusual shifts in mood, energy, overactivity (both behaviourally and cognitively), grandiosity, irritability and egocentricity;
Narcissistic Personality Disorder – NPD (more prevalent in males): characterised by a lack of empathy and the ease to lie and exploit others to achieve one’s aims; an exaggerated sense of self-importance; sense of entitlement and need for excessive admiration; a need to be recognised as superior, even without achievements that warrant this; exaggerated achievements and talents; preoccupation with fantasies about success; power, brilliance and/or beauty, belief of being superior and envious of others; belittling or looking down on people they perceive as inferior; and excessive self love.(Note: NPD is named after the Greek myth of “Narcissus”, about a man of extraordinary beauty who became too wrapped up in himself and in his ego that he scorned and rejected people whom he deemed unworthy. He was so self-centered that he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. He committed suicide because he could not have his object of desire – himself).
Social Introversion (SI): This is not a sign of good upbringing, rather it can be a sign of social anxiety disorder or autism. SI is characterised by a high level of neuroticism (withdrawal and volatility), being uncomfortable in social interactions and conversation with people – especially strangers, shyness, lack of confidence, avoidance of eye contact, disinterest in others, limited social skills, insecurity and inferiority complex.
Psychological evaluation generally involves multiple components, which can include answering questions verbally or through observational methods and completing a questionnaire. This is the first line of defence when seeking treatment for mental disorders. It allows a client to be an active treatment participant, learning how to manage his or her thoughts and behaviours. Mental health is an essential part of well-being – just like a healthy diet, sleep and exercise.
Based on the rate of domestic violence and behavioural issues in many African families, both home and abroad, it is important that mental health screening and services become a matter of routine health service provision. It is also very critical that governments, health care agencies licencing boards regulate mental health services within the realms of only certified professionals, with the adequate training and skills to properly diagnose and treat such conditions. Mental health ought to be one of the major tests conducted on intending couples by consent, because it’s proving to be a very important aspect of the coexistence of couples and healthy married lives.
Chinna Okoroafor, a licensed psychotherapist, writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A.