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The multifaceted influence of our faith system in mental health awareness

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By Ibiyemi Shindara

The influence of faith systems in mental health awareness is a complex and multifaceted one. It can be an advantage and also pose a disadvantage depending on how well the influence is maximized.

In a country like Nigeria where we hold our faith very dear to us; these systems have a role to play in the level of mental health awareness we see in our country today.

Imagine a young boy in his early 20s getting diagnosed with a mental illness like schizophrenia; more often than not, you would see that the religious authorities believe that EVERY SINGLE CASE of schizophrenia is as a result of demonic influence. Now, follow my train of thought, I am taking you my readers somewhere.

Anyone that knows Shindara knows that I am a devoted Christian who believes that demons are REAL. I genuinely believe that the devil isn’t sleeping at the same time, I believe in the magnificent power of the Almighty God. But where do we draw the line between associating EVERY SINGLE CASE of mental illness to the devil?

You would be shocked to see that same school of thought isn’t applied to other illnesses like sickle cell, cancer e.t.c. I love using sickle cell as an example because rarely would you see any “church person” say it is as a result of demonic influence. Why? Because we all know it is a genetic disorder. We know the basic information like an individual with AS genotype shouldn’t marry another individual with AS genotype. There are other genotypes apart from this but this article isn’t about Sickle Cell Disease.

This article isn’t to undermine the power of God because my life is a testament of God’s goodness. I believe that there should be a balance in everything we do and mind you, balance doesn’t always mean 50/50. I heard someone explain balance in a very beautiful way:

When you are eating rice and stew, I don’t expect you to put the same amount of stew as the rice, right? The rice would obviously be more than the food for it to be balanced. EXACTLY. Balance is dependent on the situation at hand.

There is a popular myth flying around; “having a mental illness means you are not praying enough.” This is one way the church (I would be focusing on the christian faith because that’s where I am from) has indirectly shut a lot of people from opening up about their struggles. Think about it for a moment; will you be open to sharing your struggles with your fellow believer knowing fully well that the person thinks this way? Absolutely not. That statement is basically saying:

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MENTAL DISORDER which is in anyway not true.

In a previous article, I discussed the possible causes of mental disorders using depression as a case study. Recently, I heard someone I respect so much explain mental illness in the simplest way I have ever heard it (paraphrased): “You are simply experiencing hurt as a result of past trauma. This is you spending your time trying to heal from accumulated years of hurt.”

Do you see it? Sometimes, we tend to spiritualise the most mundane things and that has negatively affected mental health awareness. Instead of seeing it the way you have been seeing it, why not see it from the perspective of: God is a God of systems and structures. He has created systems and structures right from creation which every human needs to follow. God interjects with miracles only when necessary. The Bible is not necessarily an historical book but it’s a book that highlights the “mind-blowing” things for a lack of better word. If you go through the scriptures especially during Jesus’s time, you would notice that miracle wasn’t something that was common. Shocking right? We don’t have an account of Jesus’s ministry from age 1-12. Until age 30 before we heard of Jesus again. So all of the miracles we saw were during the age 30-33.

Why all these stories? To show you that God is responsible for the wisdom these psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and all other mental health care workers possess. He gave this knowledge to them to be able to use it in tending to his flocks which in this case; humans.

You can’t claim to truly believe in God and have no regard for medicine. Even Luke in the Bible was a medical doctor. Instead of blaming the mentally ill people in the church, why not make them feel seen and heard? This will make the church serve as a good support system because recovery from mental illness isn’t as a result of just medicine/psychotherapy alone. Recovery comes about as a result of a combination of different factors including a good social network; and the church can be one. All my support systems who have been very instrumental in my recovery journey are all “church people” and everyday, I am super grateful.

The church cannot only be a good support system, but practices in church can be a good coping mechanism for relief from anxiety, stress, times of depressive episodes e.t.c. I can’t emphasise how much just leaving my house to go to church makes me really really happy. Sometimes, it serves as a source of distraction from the intrusive and negative thoughts in my head. Just worshipping and fellowshipping with other believers increases my dopamine and serotonin level which is really healthy for someone with depression.

Practices like prayer can also be a good coping mechanism. Not just a distraction this time but something that ACTUALLY WORKS. Prayer is a lifestyle and one thing I would always advise every mental health warrior I come across is to not exclude God in their recovery journey; it makes it much bearable. The assurance alone that God is your peace in the midst of the storm is a gift everyone deserves.

I understand that there are some extremists who blame the mental health warriors and I already tried my best to address that. Let’s talk about the amazing church authorities who have recognized mental health as a vital aspect of our health. I know of churches in Nigeria who help in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness by promoting empathy, vulnerability, acceptance and education. In my church, we once had a Sunday service specifically, to talk about mental health. I felt so seen during that particular service.

Before I drop my pen, I want to affirm once again that I am a firm believer of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I believe that miracles are real. I also genuinely believe that God can heal you of whatever mental illness you might be struggling with. The healing can be progressive. In whatever way God has chosen to be receptive. Getting help from the doctors is a show of your faith in God to work wonders through their hands.

I will leave you with this; Pray as if you won’t see a therapist and see a therapist as if you won’t pray.

Got further questions? You can reach out to me on: Instagram: ibiyemi_shindara, Email: [email protected]

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Health

UNICEF emphasises importance of polio vaccination to caregivers

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has encouraged caregivers in Katsina, Kano and Jigawa States to present their eligible children for the next round of polio vaccination exercise.

Mr Michael Banda, the Officer-in-charge of UNICEF Kano Field Office, made the call in Kano at a media dialogue on the polio campaign on Friday.

The media dialogue was organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Kano State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, with participants from the above-mentioned states.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the four-day polio vaccination exercise is scheduled to commence on April 20, across the three states.

According to the UNICEF Officer-in-charge of the Kano field office, the importance of the exercise cannot be overemphasised.

“As the data show, in Kano, Jigawa and Katsina, we have over 556,750 children who have not received one single dose of vaccination they should have received.

“These are referred to as zero-dose children. Such children inexorably are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, including poliomyelitis.

“This is unacceptable and must be tackled frontally. Not only is polio vaccination crucial, but all routine vaccinations are also critical to children’s survival.

“We must all work together to strengthen routine immunisation services and ensure that all children under five receive all vaccines, including the polio vaccine,” Banda said.

He added that, if all children got vaccinated and receive the vaccines they needed to receive, they would no longer be at risk of contracting polio, with attendant debilitating consequences.

He said that, rather they would have received the immunity which would protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Banda emphasised that immunisation had been proven to be the most cost-effective protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Let’s all work together, government, development partners, religious and traditional leaders, communities, NGOs, CSOs and the media, to ensure that every Nigerian child under five is vaccinated.

“This will protect them from not just polio, but all other vaccine-preventable diseases,” he appealed.

According to the UNICEF official, managing misinformation and vaccine hesitancy for Polio and overall vaccination is very crucial in Nigeria to stop the outbreak.

He stressed that the role of the media, including social media, was important in this aspect.

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Health

Over 1,800 malnourished kids recovered in six months in Bauchi — CSOs

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Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi

The Coalition of Civil Society –Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Bauchi State Chapter has said that through its partnership with other implementing partners they have assisted over 1,800 malnourished children to recover from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

The Secretary of the Network, Dabis Mwalike while addressing journalists as part of the activities marking the 10th year anniversary of the network, said that it also engaged in preventive measures against malnutrition in the state.

According to her, during the implementation, 698 healthcare providers were trained across the 20 local government areas of Bauchi, 400 community-based volunteers were trained while 4,229 comprising 2,059 males and 2,170 females, children under five identified with SAM and 7,743 made of 3661males and 4082 females, children under five identified with Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM).

She added that 1,825 children under five identified with SAM and MAM recovered. While 202 PHCs established food banks.

She said that despite all the achievements, malnutrition remains a concern to public health and a threat to child survival, growth, and development in the country, and Bauchi State according to NNHS (2018) and NDHS (2018) the State stunting rate is 46 percent, wasting is 9.5 percent while underweight is 28.2 percent and overweight is 0.5 percent.

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Health

Capacity training will reduce migration of health workers- NPHCDA

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The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) says it is taking steps towards tackling migration of health workers through capacity training programmes.
Mr Julius Idoko, NPHCDA Coordinator in Cross River, said this at the opening of a five-day capacity training for 100 frontline healthcare workers in the state on Tuesday.
Idoko said that the training, a project of the Health Minister, Prof. Mohammad Pate, was aimed at improving the capacity of health workers and making migration out of the country less attractive.
”The rate at which health workers leave the country has become worrisome, this training is to build their capacities.
”This initiative is one of the steps we are taking to curb the continuous exodus of healthcare professionals from the country.
”If we continue to engage and improve the capacity of our health workers, there will be no reason for them to leave the country,” he said.
The cordinator said that the initiative targets to capture no fewer than 120,000 healthcare workers in public institutions across the country.
Also speaking, Dr Henry Ayuk, Cross River’s Commissioner for Health, described the training as ‘very important’ to the state following its peculiar challenges.
He said the training would strengthen the skills of healthcare workers and enhance their performances.
Ayuk said that the state government would equip no fewer then 450 primary health centres within the next one year to enhance healthcare delivery.
Dr Vivian Otu, Director-General, Cross Rivers Primary Healthcare Development Agency, commended NPHCDA for the initiative, describing it as timely and well-intended
He said thet those who benefited from the exercise would train others to ensure an active and efficient workforce.
The programme attracted participants from WHO, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, President’s Malaria Initiative among others
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