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Societal Attitudes To Mental Illness: The Need For Change

1972 words - 8 pages

Mental (psychiatric) illness can be defined as a medical disorder whereby an individual experiences mild to severe disturbances in either of his or her thinking, perception, feeling (emotion) and behaviour, which can significantly impair the person's ability to cope with life's ordinary demands and routines such as ability to work, to get along with others, and to enjoy life. On the other hand, attitudes are our likes and dislike i.e. our favourable or unfavourable evaluation of and reaction to things including people.The psychiatric literature is replete with studies of attitudes to mental illness and mentally ill persons. The results of these studies have always shown that the general ...view middle of the document...

The latter is further supported by the Nigerian constitution that disqualifies individuals from holding high public posts if "adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind" i.e. mentally ill. In Japan, as recently as the 1980s, sufferers of any mental illness were disqualified from holding many, if not most of jobs; right to vote, right to seek public office or holding a driver's licence . Similarly in the United States of America, politicians used to be disqualified from contesting elected offices for reasons of mental illness.Unfortunately, in some families the mentally ill are kept in inappropriate places, and some relatives abandon them outright; leaving such individuals to become vagrants on the streets. Some relatives even contemplate poisoning their mentally ill in order to put an early end to what they consider as the family disgrace and embarrassment that these sick ones constitute to them.Thus, as we can see, the mentally ill individuals are deprived of their fundamental human rights because of their illness. What is responsible for these negative attitudes and who are the facilitators and\or perpetuators of these negative attitudes, one will ask? Cultural believes coupled with the high level of ignorance of our people are the foremost reasons in our environment. Unfortunately, the print and electronic media also contribute to the dissemination of many of the misconceptions which persist about people with mental illness. Newspapers often stress a history of mental illness in the backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence. Television programmes also frequently sensationalize crimes when persons with mental illness are involved. Comedians make fun of mentally ill persons using their disabilities as a source of humour. Our local home drama videos often portray mental illness as penalties for sins committed, and the churches regard mental illness as demonic affliction. The traditional herbalists and\or diviners on their part encourage the belief in preternatural causes and witchcraft invoked by the enemy of the victim.Definitely, our society needs to change its attitude toward the mentally ill if we are to be able to assist these individuals to receive the kind of humane care they deserve, or better still, entitled to. Why do we need this positive change of attitudes? It is well known that mental illness is no respecter of anyone and can affect anyone anytime. It knows no age limit, economic status, profession, race, creed or colour. A few years ago, a former minister for health and social services in Nigeria announced that about seventeen million (about 15%) Nigerians were mentally ill. Some people even believe that this figure is probably an underestimation because it may have left out the undocumented high percentage of the populace who throng the herbal homes and syncretic churches all over the country with clinical and sub-clinical psychiatric conditions.In addition there has been a steady increase in...

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