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Maintaining mental health amidst  economic hardship

By Mary Agidi

No matter how well you plan your life, unexpected changes will happen, says Todd Dewett. Change can come in the form of illness, job loss, business failure, marriage failure, or national or global economic meltdown. Navigating these periods without losing one’s mental health is crucial to overall well-being and longevity.

The current economic hardship in Nigeria, marked by excessive price hikes in necessities like food, without supplementary measures to cushion the impact, is causing serious mental distress for average,  and low-income earners.

Civil servants, who have not seen salary increments, are struggling to buy essentials like rice and beans at triple the prices they were before the subsidy removal. Coupled with increases in rent and school fees, many are experiencing significant mental health issues, leading to conditions such as depression, heart attack, high blood pressure, and even suicide.

Maintaining mental health stability requires resilience and a steadfast attitude. Overall health balance entails maintaining physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, financial, social, intellectual, and occupational wellness.

Recently, Dr. Sunday Sajo,  the Chief Medical Director of Ondo State Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Akure, highlighted the increasing rate of mental illnesses due to Nigeria’s economic situation and emphasized the need for resilience to adapt and manage the psychological stress associated with the current economic challenges.

According to Dr. Sajo, mental health is the ability to live well by coping with difficult situations without developing mental illness. He urged the government to invest in the mental health sector, lamenting the difficulties mental illness patients face in affording their medications. He hinted that the economic crisis has worsened the health status of those managing high blood pressure, stroke, and other mental illnesses, leading to increased mental breakdowns.

To remain mentally stable amidst economic hardship, Dr. Sajo advocated relaxation exercises and a proper diet, acknowledging that many Nigerians can not afford nutritious food, hence the need to take preventive measures that cannot cost them money. He further advised avoiding environments that can trigger mental health disorders.

Dr. Adedotun Ajiboye, a clinical psychologist at Ekiti State University Teaching Hospital, provided insights on how Nigerians could survive economic hardship to prevent health failures.

Addressing the issue of health and well-being, Dr. Ajiboye presented a comprehensive approach to different aspects of human lifestyles that can affect the holistic health of individuals.

He stressed the multifaceted nature of well-being, including mental, emotional, financial, social, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and occupational wellness.

For physical wellness, Dr. Ajiboye underscored the importance of starting each day with breakfast, saying, “Your body needs energy after fasting all night. Eating well in the morning sets the tone for a healthy day.” He also recommended regular check-ups, taking all vaccinations, and engaging in mentally stimulating activities like playing games.

“Don’t bottle up your emotions,” he advised. “Maintain a balanced diet, hydrate regularly, limit processed foods, and avoid excessive salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Exercise appropriately for your age and ensure you get enough sleep.”

He highlighted the importance of joy for mental health, describing it as  a natural medicine.

According to him, negative emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, worry, malice, and bitterness can threaten health. He however, recommended settling quarrels before sleep and practicing self-love to maintain a healthy emotional state.

To achieve financial wellness which is the ability to maintain a balanced financial status in  Nigeria, Ajiboye advised individuals to avoid overspending or spending on frivolities to reduce financial burdens.

Social wellness, according to Dr. Ajiboye is also crucial nowadays, as he highlighted the need to avoid social withdrawal, noting that social connectivity and interactions with colleagues, families, and friends are vital for one’s mental health.

He maintained that continuous learning and self-improvement are essential for intellectual wellness. “Avoid low self-esteem by upgrading yourself regularly,” says Dr. Ajiboye. For occupational wellness, he advised against overworking. “Work will continue if you die. Practice work-life balance to avoid retiring into sickness.”

According to him, lots of evidence-based research indicated a strong relationship between spirituality and health, noting that those who are religious had been proven to enjoy certain confidence and faith in their religion that contribute to peace of mind for them.

Dr. Ajiboye referred to the scriptures to buttress the research, quoting passages in the Bible that say, “A merry heart does good like medicine, but a sad heart dries the bones. A sound heart is the light of the body.”

To corroborate Dr. Sajo’s submission on environmental wellness,  the clinical psychologist also charged individuals to pay attention to their environment, noting that a sane environment that is devoid of noise or any other activities that can affect one’s health is crucial in achieving holistic health wellness.

 Practicing positive thinking: According to Tatiana Kolovou, a mental health educator and Faculty Member at Kelley School of Business Indiana University, it’s human nature to think negatively in a challenging situation, especially an unpredictable one. She, however, noted that positive thinking and self-talk are not only better for our overall health, but they can influence our overall outlook on life.

She provides some positive thinking reactions individuals should practice immediately in the face of adversity, which include, ‘To Think short-term’ by acknowledging that negative events are temporary, changeable, and associated only with the situation, noting that by so doing, the individual is adapting to a more resilient outlook.

Another remedy is   ‘To Think Local’.  She says: “What I mean by this is focus only on yourself and what you can do to change the situation. Comparing yourself to others and their circumstances will only create negative feelings, especially if their situations are not as difficult as yours.

‘Talk positive.’ The words you use, internally and externally, can influence your mindset. Pay attention to your internal language next time you face adversity. Replace the words failure with an obstacle, downfall with a setback, and horrible with challenging.  Think of coaching yourself with phrases like, “This is tough, but I’ll get through it.”Let’s focus on what I can control.” Or, “I’m strong, I can overcome this.” Positive self-talk and perspective are directly related to positive emotions. If you prefer to write your language down, replay it in your head, or speak it out loud with close friends, keep it all optimistic. The goal here is to train yourself to react with a positive perspective in difficult situations”.

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