Why you should be aware of your family history on mental illness – Part 2

Having a healthy diet
Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Consuming significant amounts of unhealthy food, it can make your mental health deteriorate. Eating healthily can make you less likely to become unwell, and it can help you stay at a healthy body weight. Some mental illnesses can get worse if you don’t have certain nutrients in your diet. For example, a low level of vitamin B is linked to depression.
Get regular exercise: Moderate exercise can help to improve your mood. It can also help you to feel better about yourself.

Getting enough sleep: Problems with sleep can affect how you feel physically and mentally. In turn, how you feel physically and mentally can also affect how you sleep. If you regularly have problems sleeping, please see your clinician. Talking to someone about your problems: Talking to people you trust about any problems you have can be useful.
Stress: My earlier articles dealt with this subject. Make sure your coping skills outweigh your stressors.
Drug use: If you find you use alcohol or drugs to deal with problems or stress, then see your clinician.

My take
When I see a client or patient for an initial assessment, I personally look out for signs of social support. Did this person come alone or does he/she for example have a father, brother, sister or son as company. A lone potential client is a red flag. Human behavior results from socialization. It is the process by which children and adults learn from others. Family and friends can aid the client, and this clinician can then build a mental health history profile. I then proceed to ask whether any first degree relatives (mother, father, siblings, and children) and second degree relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins) currently have, or have had mental health issues. If you have deep pockets you can hire professionals who specialize in ancestry. Seeking a geneticist is also a good angle. Scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

The case of Akinlade
As of today there is no cure for mental illness. However, treatments do exist to reduce or eliminate the distressing symptoms. This is not a panacea for in this case for Akinlade but it is an opportunity to return to healthy functioning. Akinlade (not his real name) was one of the lucky few from Ikoyi, Lagos state who was due to parent’s wealth was able to travel to United Kingdom to further his post-secondary education. Fourteen months into his education in London he presented the following to a medical doctor. He would, especially when he just woke up in the morning, see angels flying around his room. This agents would then metamorphose into large menacing rodents, advancing and trying to “sniff” him.

To compound the situation, at various times during the day he would hear voices mostly persecutory in nature, all designed to undermine his self-esteem. “You are no good,” “You are a waste of space on this earth” “you are a ***** .” The doctor after an interview and several assessments including blood work concluded there was no medical ailment. He was then referred to a psychiatrist. Akinlade, after a battery of tests was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. This is a severe mental illness where one’s emotions, feelings and behavior are no longer in sync. The clinician opined it was self-inflicted. It could also be genetical, which made him susceptible. No one knows because no one will bother to ask questions because of the significant stigma involved. Akinlade admitted he joined the wrong crowd where the staple of socialization was ingesting and injecting drugs. He has since returned to Nigeria where his rehabilitation continues.

Family history is significant for many reasons.
•Conduct acceptance. Growing up as children especially in Africa we learn from our parents and the “village” customs and traditions which is considered ‘normal’ and acceptable behaviors. This significantly dictates relationships which will be replicated in the child’s future. In other words, if one grows up seeing parents being loving and kind to each other, they grow up and mimic this behavior in their own relationships. If a child grows up in an abusive household where people physically and mentally abuse one another, this is accepted, even though this is not healthy.

•Saneness. If a person has relatives who are mentally challenged, there is a higher chance that they themselves will have one. Much like some physical illness, such as high blood pressure or breast cancer, it is essential to be aware of a family history of mental health, as they can have a predisposition to mental illness. This does not however guarantee one is going to inherit the disease. Mental health is not only affected by genetics, but also by the environment which include abuse of pharmaceutical and illicit drugs, injuries, and nutritional deficiencies.

•Frugal Environment. There is less access to physical and mental health treatment from children who are raised in a lower-class families. This also manifests, unfortunately on the other spectrum where schools in wealthier areas have more funding for extracurricular activities and resources for better equipment than schools in more impoverished neighborhoods.

• Living arrangements. The living arrangement depends on who pays for one’s food and shelter. For differing reasons, (e.g. divorce, orphans, house-helps, and aged parents) this affects children who frequently move from area to area, change schools, churches, and social groups. They have both different strengths and weaknesses compared to children who live in the same arena for prolonged periods of time.

• Alcohol and drug use. Let it be clear, Alcohol itself is a drug. Most of the populace can relate to a drunk parent. It usually is written off as a moral flaw or a temporary coping skill. But seriously, if a parent abuses alcohol or drugs, an individual is more likely to abuse substances when they are adolescents and adults. Also, if a mother drinks or uses drugs while pregnant, it may impact many areas of a child’s life. Consequently, living in a neighborhood where one is exposed to drug use and the violence that emanates normalizes the behavior.

• Violence and abuse in the home. In some of our homes this may be an intended form of discipline. This can trend dangerously to the realm of abuse. This can be a societal problem where education on the effective disciplinary methodologies are lacking. Children who are raised in a home where screaming, hitting, threats, and fear are present may show signs of hyper vigilance. They then have a higher likelihood to become abusers or victims themselves because this is how they learnt to treat and be treated.

• Nutrition and food. Unfortunately, an environment has created where rightly or wrongly some have learned to skip a meal or two every day. This is psychologically and physically worrisome. When one is raised in a household where there is food insecurity there will be a more considerable amount of stress which will affects their physical and emotional development. Parents may have to choose between rent, feeding their family and medications. There is more likely to be an advent of diseases and poor overall health.

• Attachments. Personally, I believe the concept of the “village” had saved many an African from this issue. The erosion of our “collective” approach to child rearing culture from the “individualism” of western civilization has been severe. It has long been studied that babies and children need constant and healthy attachments to thrive. There is a mental health problem called Reactive Attachment Disorder, where an infant or young child is not exposed to a consistent caregiver. As adults, they are less likely to trust others and have difficulty forming close bonds with others. Finally, we as a culture are still struggling to make the necessary effective adjustments.These are just some of the reasons therapists inquire about family history. Mental and physical health is affected by many things and the situation that one is exposed to have a significant impact on adulthood.