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By Emeh Joy

Mental health problems are common and can affect anyone irrespective of age and gender. This article is an ultimate mental health guide to help people prevent and deal with common mental disorders.

It would be hard to state the number of people suffering from mental health disorders worldwide as there are many different mental disorders with different presentations.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, which is a common mental disorder. Bipolar affects about 45 million; dementia affects about 50 million people, while schizophrenia affects about 20 million people worldwide.

Mental disorders are highly neglected health conditions, especially in African countries like Nigeria. However, you would be shocked to know that an estimated 20-30% of the Nigerian population suffers from mental disorders.

For a population that has up to 200 million people, 30% is a significant figure. This is about thrice the population of Florida state.

Nigeria enacted its first mental health legislation in 1916. The laws were later amended in 1958; however, these laws have not been amended since then.

Countries like Nigeria that haven’t been paying much attention to the mental health of their citizens ought to wake up and put mental health legislation and policies in place to protect people suffering from mental health issues.

In this mental health guide, we will talk about mental health and the different mental disorders. We will give effective strategies for preventing common mental disorders like depression and also how to treat, manage and alleviate sufferings caused by these conditions.

At the end of this mental health guide, you will find links to global mental health organisations geared towards making mental help accessible to people. We will also give helpful guides on what to do if you have someone suffering from common mental health illnesses.

What is mental health?

Mental health is the state of your psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing. Your mental health affects how you feel, think and behave.

The state of your mental health would determine how you relate with others, handle stress, and even the type of choices you make.

If you experience mental health issues at any point, your mood, thinking, and behaviour would be affected. Mental health is important for every individual at every phase of life.

Even though mental health disorders are common, there is help for people with these conditions. Mental health problems can be managed. They can as well be treated till full recovery is attained.

Importance of mental health

Mental health impacts various aspects of your life

Why is mental health important? Mental health is important because it is a significant aspect of your health that affects your physical wellbeing.

Mental health affects different areas of our lives and society at large. Mental health impacts:

  • School or educational performance
  • Daily living
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Work productivity
  • The crime rate in the society

Mental health has been linked to behaviour. It is also considered fundamental to physical health as well as the quality of life. When you are in the right state of mental health, you will:

  • Be in a better physical state of health
  • Be able to cope with stress and other life issues
  • Develop and manage your relationships
  • Contribute positively to the society
  • Be productive at your workplace
  • Achieve your full potential


The early signs of mental health problems

Sometimes, you might be unsure whether you or someone you know is suffering from mental health disorders or issues. Most common mental health issues like depression are difficult to detect unless you pay close attention to the individual.

So, how do you tell when someone is suffering from mental problems? Experiencing one or more of the following can be an early warning sign of a mental health problem:

  • A constant or prolonged feeling of hopelessness and helplessness
  • A numb feeling or feeling like nothing matters
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Staying away from people and off usual activities
  • Inability to concentrate or think properly
  • An unusual feeling of sadness, confusion, anger, fear or worry
  • Inability to carry out daily routine tasks like house chores, going to work, taking care of your kids, etc
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships with people
  • Unexplained and unusual pains and aches
  • Yelling at or fighting people unnecessarily
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Excessive eating or sleeping
  • Eating or sleeping too little
  • Persistent memories and thoughts that you can’t get off your head
  • Hearing voices

What to do when you or someone you know shows signs of mental health problems

How do you help?


If your loved one shows sign of mental illness, here are things you can do to help:

  • Have an open and honest discussion with them and tell them about your concerns
  • Offer your support and encouragement
  • Avoiding him or her is not the best thing
  • Do not stigmatise him or her
  • Help him, or her find a qualified mental health professional and help book an appointment
  • In a more severe case or in a case where the person has done self-harm, call the emergency line or take the person to the hospital

What if you are the one affected? Are you experiencing depression., anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other symptoms of mental health illness? Please get help right away.

Here are things you can do:

  • Reach out to a trusted close friend or loved one
  • Call your local emergency line
  • Call a suicide hotline number if your country has one
  • Reach out to a primary care provider
  • Call your mental health specialist if you already have one, or contact one as soon as possible
  • Contact your parents, spiritual leader or anyone you can freely talk to

You can also reach out to mental health organisations such as the Global Youth Mental Health Awareness. Organisations like this offer care, help and support to individuals going through mental problems.

Also, remember you have loved ones that care about you. You need to be strong for yourself and others. You will get through it.

Who is at risk of developing mental health disorders?

Risk of developing mental health disorder

People who are exposed to certain mental disorder contributing factors like stress, environmental hazards and perinatal infections are at higher risk of developing mental disorders.

This doesn’t mean people not exposed to them cannot experience mental health issues, but there is an increased risk when people are exposed to mental health illness triggers.

Mental illnesses are generally thought to be caused by genetic factors, impairment with brain chemistry and exposure to toxins and stressors in the womb before bath.

Triggers or factors that can contribute to mental problems include:

  • A family history of mental problems
  • Chronic health conditions like diabetes
  • Stressful life issues such as the death of a loved one or financial problems
  • Brain damage as a result of trauma
  • Traumatic experiences or history of abuse
  • Use of drugs and alcohol

While individual attributes like the ability to manage emotions and behaviour are considered determinants of mental disorders and mental health, other factors play a role.

Economic, environmental, political, and social factors such as social protection, government policies, working conditions, and living standards are also determinants of mental health. Nutrition is also a contributing factor to mental health.

Types of mental health disorders

There are different types of mental disorders, and learning about these conditions might be a step towards detecting when you or a loved one is getting affected. It might also help you improve your mental health.

There are different types of mental health disorders

In subsequent articles, we will be discussing intensively each mental health disorder, signs, risk factors, treatment strategies etc.

Below are some common mental disorders.

1. Anxiety disorders

These are mental disorders that present with constant excessive worry, nervousness and fear. There might also be feelings and thoughts of impending doom, restlessness, tension and irritability.

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

2. Mood disorders

Mood disorders are another common types of mental health disorder. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, mood disorder is a “psychiatric condition in which the principal feature is prolonged, pervasive emotional disturbance”.

Mood disorders are typically characterized by emotional disturbances and distortions of thoughts which affects physical functionality.

Common mood disorders include:

  • Major Depression
  • Bipolar Depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

3. Eating disorders

An eating disorder is a type of mental disorder that affects your eating habits. These disorders typically present with eating too much, too little or binge eating.

Eating disorders, just like other mental disorders, affect your physical and psychological health. They involve intense behaviours and feelings associated with eating.

Examples of eating disorders include:

  • Bulimia
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating

4. Psychotic disorders

Like the name implies, psychotic disorders are types of mental disorders characterised by a disconnection from reality.

Different things can trigger a state of psychosis. For instance, it may be caused by a medication, drug use or a health condition. Schizophrenia which is a psychiatric disease is one of the common causes.

While some psychotic disorders are short-lived, others are chronic. Some common psychotic disorders include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective Disorder

5. Personality disorders

A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder that affects your emotions, thoughts and actions and may last for years or an entire lifespan.

A personality disorder can cause harm to relationships and other areas of one’s life. These types of mental problem have to do with how you perceive yourself or self-image.

Some personality disorders we must talk about are:

  • Borderline
  • Narcissistic
  • Dependent

6. Impulse control disorders

These types of mental disorders present with an inability to control one’s self. Impulse control disorders will make you cause harm to yourself and others.

People with impulse control disorders simply can’t help themselves and need help because they constantly do things that go against societal laws, norms and practices without thinking.

Common impulse control disorders include:

  • Kleptomania
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder

7. Trauma-related disorders

These are mental disorders that are triggered by traumatic events or experiences. When you witnessed something extremely distressing, you might develop this type of mental disorder.

Trauma-related disorders are mental problems in reaction to disturbing, terrifying or life-threatening events. Two common examples of trauma-related disorders are:

  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

8. Substance abuse or addiction disorders

Substance abuse or addiction disorders are also common mental issues that can greatly impact your life negatively.

These disorders are characterized by a lack of willpower to stop or give up on a habit. In most cases, the patients find themselves unable to forego a bad habit even though it is obviously causing them more harm than good.

An example of substance abuse or addiction disorder is the use of alcohol, illegal or prescription drugs.

How to prevent common mental disorders

There are preventive measures that can be taken against mental problems

How about we prevent mental problems even before they occur? Prevention is an effective approach to improving mental health in our communities.

Mental health prevention involves stopping mental health issues before they occur. However, it also involves offering support to people with or without mental illnesses so they can live healthily.

Mental health prevention can be approached in three ways:

1. Primary prevention

This approach has to do with stopping mental health issues before they emerge as well as promoting mental health for everyone. This preventive approach often targets everyone in society.

2. Secondary prevention

This mental health prevention strategy targets those who are at higher risk of mental health problems. It is also called selective prevention. An example of secondary prevention approach is a program that offers support to those who have been victims of trauma.

3. Tertiary prevention

This approaches mental health prevention from the aspect of those who are already affected by mental disorders. The aim of this strategy is to reduce symptoms of mental illnesses while empowering people affected to manage their own symptoms.

Everyone at the individual, community, state and national level should be involved in mental health disorder prevention. All stakeholders should put hands on deck to promote the mental wellbeing of the public.

Here are some things that can be done to prevent some common mental health issues and promote mental wellbeing:

  • Increase social, political and professional awareness about the importance of mental health prevention
  • Promote the preventive strategies at multidisciplinary levels
  • Develop school-based interventions (targeting school children, parents and teachers)
  • Promote healthy lifestyles, which include exercise and nutrition
  • Macro-policy interventions to improve things like housing, the standard of living and reduce economic insecurity
  • Early intervention programs for children at risk of mental disorders e.g. children with a family history of mental disorders or those that have suffered from trauma
  • Adult interventions such as putting up workplace legislation and taxing alcohol products
  • Offer support to persons with signs of a mental disorder
  • Addressing major environmental and socioeconomic determinants for mental health which are closely related to macro-problems like war, poverty and inequality
  • Taking care of the physical health as there is a link between mental and physical health. For instance, cardiovascular diseases can lead to mental disorders like depression and vice versa.

Effective strategies for treating and managing mental conditions

If you find out you or someone you know has a mental health problem, the next question that would probably be on your mind is, “what next?”

If there is any consolation, know that most mental health disorders are treatable, and help is available for you both offline and online.

With the help of the right medical team, mental issues can be treated

Note that when it comes to mental disorders, you might not be able to help yourself. You might not be able to do it alone, you will need help and support from people.

Asides from yourself, your treatment team might include:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Primary care doctor
  • A nurse
  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Social worker

Treatment of mental problems will generally depend on the type of mental disorder, its severity as well as what works best for you. In most cases, a better result is attained when combination treatments are used.

Here are some options for treating and managing mental disorders.

1. Hospitalization

Depending on the mental disorder and its degree, sometimes the first line of action might be hospitalization. Taking the patient to a hospital might be the best thing to do in some severe cases.

A hospital setting will ensure that the patient is accurately diagnosed, monitored closely and administered the right medications until the condition gets better.

2. The use of medications

While this article is not meant to prescribe medications, it might help to know that there are available medications that have proven to significantly improve symptoms of mental disorders.

Medicines when combined with other treatment plans will likely be more effective at treating a mental problem.

The medicine your healthcare provider will prescribe for you will depend on different factors such as the mental condition you have been diagnosed with as well as how your body responds to the medicine.

Some commonly used classes of prescription medications for mental health problems include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood-stabilizing medications
  • Antipsychotic medications

3. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the use of therapy by a trained professional to treat mental illness. The aim of psychotherapy is usually to use different strategies that explore feelings, thoughts and behaviours to improve one’s mental or psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways of treating mental disorders is pairing psychotherapy with the use of medications. Some examples of the use of psychotherapy in treating mental illness are Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Therapy.

In the case of psychotherapy, you will need to see a mental health professional who will teach you more about your behaviour, thoughts, feelings and moods while providing you with coping tips as well as stress management skills.

It will be best if you choose a therapist you will be comfortable talking to; one you are confident will listen and hear what you have to say without judgements. While they are all trained to do similar things, it might help to work with one you feel like your spirit accepts.

4. Joining a support group

Joining a group that comprises people facing similar mental health challenges might help you learn more about your condition. It might teach you better coping mechanism.

You will find different support groups for mental health in different communities, on social media and other online platforms.

5. Staying connected to friends and family

Mental health disorders tend to make one want to stay away from friends and family members. However, there is no better time to bring them closer than now, so long as you won’t be of harm to them.

If you think you are at the point where you will cause them harm, it is better to seek immediate help from mental health professionals.

Talk to your family about your condition and seek help. Love from family and friends can help you get through this difficult phase of your life.

6. Self-help plan

The efforts of other treatment options might be futile or rendered ineffective if you do not want to help yourself or make conscious efforts to help yourself get better.

A self-help plan enables you to implement strategies aimed at promoting your recovery and wellness. It is important that you work with other people involved in your treatment journey in improving your mental health.

Have a self-care plan. Start each day with a positive mindset.

One of the ways to help is by cooperating with your healthcare provider, talk about the treatment option that will be best for you, discuss your personal preferences, symptoms, medication side effects etc.

Other self-help plans that can help build your mental health treatment plan include lifestyle changes and the use of home remedies. This might include:

  • Ensuring that you stick to your treatment plan
  • Making healthy choices like getting adequate sleep and eating healthy
  • Staying active, exercising
  • Avoiding alcohol and drug use
  • Keeping a journal

You should learn to determine priorities. Learn to set reasonable goals and manage time. Using a daily planner might help. Also, allow yourself to do less when your symptoms are severe.

It is also important that you adopt a positive attitude to life. Don’t stress yourself about things you cannot change. Focusing on the good side of life might help improve your mood which can, in turn, improve other symptoms you are battling.

How to improve your overall mental health

To get the most out of life, it is important that you take care of your mental health. How do you improve your mental health?

Making even simple adjustments to your lifestyle can help boost your overall mental health. Below are 20 practical ways to improve your overall mental health.

  1. Take life easy, avoid stress
  2. Eat healthily
  3. Exercise often
  4. Drink sensibly
  5. Communicate, keep in touch
  6. Laugh, smile more often
  7. Ask for help when you need it
  8. Accept who you are
  9. Do away with the inferiority complex
  10. Do that which you love doing
  11. Remember to take a break
  12. Show support and care for others
  13. Be grateful for your life and achievements, say thank you often
  14. Take each day one step at a time
  15. Go on that adventurous trip, treat yourself to a nice vacation
  16. Read, listen to music, sing, dance, do some activities that release your endorphin hormones
  17. Write, to let out upsetting experiences
  18. Spend more time with family and friends
  19. Learn the art of forgiveness
  20. Apply sunscreen, enjoy some time out in the sunshine


Importance of mental health awareness

Mental illnesses affect an estimated 13% of children, 46% of teenagers, and 19% of the adult population every year. However, only about half of the people affected received the needed treatment. Why is it so?

Many cases of mental disorders go untreated because of ignorance, inadequate mental health awareness programs, and social stigma attached to mental health.

The result of all these is that more people with mental health issues go untreated. This leads to poor performance at home, school and work, increased medical expenses, increased exposure to harm, more crimes in society, and an even higher risk of suicide.

The importance of mental health awareness include:

  • It keeps people informed about where to go for help and how to access a mental health professional.
  • It will lead to an early intervention which will enable a loved one to receive appropriate care
  • It reduces misconceptions for the mentally ill by other members of the society
  • Mental health awareness helps eliminate stigma for people affected
  • It creates room for new improvements
  • Faster recovery
  • Mental health awareness is key for understanding mental health; it educates both the affected and the general public about mental health.

Where to get mental health support or help

So, where do you go when you need mental help or support? This mental health guide provides you with the needed information.

Reach out to groups, organizations, individuals for mental support

Check out the links below for global and regional organizations and support groups you can reach out to if you or someone you know needs mental health support:

Mental health organizations, groups and communities on social media:

Connect with mental health NGOs on social media platforms as well:

Hotlines to call:

Here is a list of some national helplines to call for mental health support or emergency.



United Kingdom

Call Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393

Or Samaritans on 116 123

New Zealand

Call Lifeline on 0800 543 354

Or Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865


Call Lifeline on +913340447437

Or Samaritans Mumbai on +91 84229 84528


Call Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative on 0809111MANI (6264)

South Africa

Call Mental Health Helpline on 0800 456 789

Or Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0800 567 567


Call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Or Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467


Call Health Crisis Hotline on 1553 (+63) 917-899-8727


Call Tell Lifeline on 03-5774-0992


Call Connect Counselling Helpline on 1800 477 477

Or Samaritans on 116123

United States

Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-TALK (8255)

Or use the Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

Mental Health Helplines For Countries