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Toju Chike-Obi: Mental Health Checks Should Be Criteria For Assuming Public Office

Health entrepreneur Toju Chike-Obi emphasises primary healthcare’s vital role in early detection and intervention of mental health disorders.

Toju Chike-Obi the Co-founder and Medical Director of Healthcore Ltd, has opined that mental health checks should be one of the tests that candidates running for public office positions should undergo before assuming office.

Speaking on the issue of mental health, Chike-Obi said it is imperative that individuals, especially those in government and those who are licensed to carry firearms like the police, know their mental health status, advocating the need for more mental health education.

“If the people who make up our government do not understand the concept of mental health, there has to be training on mental health; what it is and what it is not. There has to be an understanding in the fabric of the health system that mental health is another illness just like other illnesses.

“There has to be a lot of education in the health community, in the public and even among elected officials because we know what the issue is with the budgetary allocation for health. It’s one of the worst in the world. The WHO says it needs to be about 15%. We are 5% and we have remained there for decades. There has to be focused campaigns

“I recommend mental health checks for everyone, not just elected officials. For any publicly held position, that should be one of your tests. Also, any force that carries arms, should have psychological testing.”

The Doctor also raised awareness about the prevalence of mental health issues, particularly among young people, with 50% of lifetime mental health issues manifesting before the age of 25.

She also cited change in sleeping or eating habits as notable symptoms of mental health disorders.

“50% of lifetime mental health issues show up before the age of 25. They show up in teens and young adults. They kind of continue to manifest and worsen over time if not cared for.  Things to look out for include If you are either sleeping too much or not sleeping at all, you know, your sleep habits change, your appetite changes, you loose appetite or begin to eat voraciously, also if you notice a change in your mood; you are suddenly more angry, touchier, you suddenly have irrational outbursts, you are more easily triggered.

“Sometimes you notice you don’t feel like doing things that normally interest you, especially for the younger people. Others could be you starting to have thoughts, persistent thoughts of loom and gloom, paranoid thoughts of someone coming for you or could be thoughts of self-harm or you harming people.

“The most common mental health issues are Anxiety and Depression. Everybody is at risk of mental health issues because there are situational mental health disorders. For example, when you lose a loved one unexpectedly or even expectedly, you do get depressed and clinical depression is when you are sad and lose interest in things that you normally love for three weeks or longer. That is when you call it clinical depression. But those sort of situational mental health disorders are temporal and all of us are at risk for those sorts. But if these are not properly managed, they become more chronic.”

Addressing the stigma surrounding mental health, Chike-Obi compared it to other health conditions like asthma or diabetes, highlighting the need to dispel misconceptions and promote understanding and empathy.

“People with mental health issues are not crazy; they are people with a health disorder and everybody needs to understand that. Let us begin to put in place systems in our primary healthcare that address these issues so that we are able to pick up on those issues early diagnosis. Also, find a way to bring mental health practitioners into our systems.

The issue here is that having poor mental health is stigmatized, not just in places like Nigeria but all over the world. In some places, people hide their family members who have mental health issues. But if you think about it, I for example am an asthmatic. I don’t consider myself a weak person or inadequate in any way because I have asthma. Same with a person who is diabetic. He won’t consider himself inadequate because of diabetes, yet for some reasons, when it comes to mental health, we believe that people with mental health issues are defective, weak and just can’t handle the stresses of life, forgetting that it is just a disorder like every other disorder.”

Chioma Kalu

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