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Mental Health Series

The effects of dagga on mental health

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Recently the South African Supreme Court legalised the private use of dagga. Individuals are allowed to consume dagga in private and also grow for private use. The judgement brought mixed reactions on the issue and further fuelled the debate on dagga.

There are those who have used this judgement to the detriment of their own health. The crux of the matter though is that adverse effects of dagga cannot be underemphasised as far as mental health is concerned. Dagga use is quite popular amongst the youth which ostensibly explains the prevalence of dagga related disorders amongst them.

Effects of dagga are instant upon use. When dagga is smoked, it gets into the blood stream and then blood –brain barrier. This results in depressed brain activity, the end result being production of a dreamy state manifesting as delusions or hallucinations.

Delusions are altered thoughts whereby one may think he is a president when the reality is he is not. Hallucinations on the other hand is when an individual has distorted perceptions of reality like seeing a lion when it’s not there!

Others effects include:
paranoia,
panic attacks
anxiety
Impaired coordination and balance
Impairment in learning and memory

Various research studies have shown that heavy use of dagga facilitates the development of schizophrenia and substance use disorders. The amount of the drug used and the age at first use often place an increased vulnerability to develop these disorders. This explicitly explains why there are many youth who are having substance use disorders in our country.

Those using dagga may develop amotivational syndrome which basically means they have lost the willpower to do meaningful activities in life! This is basically the stroke that breaks the camel’s back, as other mental health problems may manifest from this.

Those whom are already diagnosed with mental health disorders can have symptoms of their conditions worsening when they use dagga. Depression and anxiety are often made worse by use of dagga. The false perception that taking dagga has a calming effect often predisposes those having mental health problems to take it in order to deal with their illness burden.

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Mental Health Series

MENTAL HEALTH FOR PRISON OFFICERS

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Recently I officiated at the Moshupa Boys Prison in a workshop organised by students of I.H.S Lobatse and today discussion will reflect on the workshop. The workshop focus was on prison officers’ mental health in the workplace.

According to the 2017 Mental Health at Work Report, “60 % of employees have experienced a mental health issue due to work or where work was a contributing factor at some point in their careers.” Prisons are no different as they are deemed a hostile, demanding and challenging work environment which could be to some extent be a habitat for poor mental health. As reported by Newsweek Online, a survey of Washington State Department of Corrections indicated that 20 % of participants displayed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Another California study in 2018, did also highlight that 10% prison guards did contemplate suicide; a clarion call for dialogue on the matter.

In prisons there are issues of safety rising from violence by inmates which can have a bearing on the prison staff mental health state. Physical security and safety have been seen by the World Health Organisation as protective factors towards mental health.

Prison staff bear witness to traumatising experiences and events as relayed by prisoners or in court appearances. The warders interact a lot with inmates and get to understand their ordeal and get to know what transpired in the purported crime. This at times come to haunt the prison officers in the form of PTSD. PTSD can occur even when one is given a narration of a traumatic event!
Counselling services need be provided and debriefing is also a must as far as the mental health of warders is concerned. Debriefing entails giving an opportunity to individuals to relieve the experiences and emotions in order to allow for catharsis.

Mental health in the prison setup requires a two-pronged approach that seeks to help officers deal with their own issues and on the other hand address the inmates’ issues surrounding their sentencing and thus the need for a fully functional mental health service under prisons. Staff training on mental health issues should be provided to enhance understanding on mental disorders and encourage mental health promotion for both staff and prisoners. The workshop was worthwhile and I recommend that it be expanded to other prison centres!

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Mental Health Series

INTERNATIONAL NURSES DAY: REFLECTING ON THE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES OF NURSES

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Today’s reflection will be on the Nurses’’ day that was celebrated worldwide on the 12th of May. The day is celebrated in remembrance of the birth Florence Nightingale who is the pioneer of modern day professional nursing. The theme for this year is “Nurses: A voice to lead-Health for All.”

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system as in every health care facility they are there to provide care. They are the single largest group of professionals in the clinical field.
The crux of the discussion is that professional nurses experience burnout and workplace stress because of the nature of the demands of the nursing job. These emanate from working long hours, emotional exhaustion from dealing with vulnerable and ailing clientele, experience of traumatic events, fulfilment of high professional and public expectations and low reward outcomes for their efforts.

The nurses’ already volatile ordeal is further compounded by incidences of nurses being assaulted, emotionally abused, physically abused, sexually assaulted and cyber bullied by the same individuals that they seek to render care for.

The above highlighted challenges can be emotionally draining to the nurses and even facilitate development of mental health problems if they are not attended to promptly. This has been affirmed by various studies.

A review paper done by Vasconcelos and others in 2016 highlighted that the risk of exposure to HIV and poor relationships with administrators as other associated factors that facilitated development of mental disorders.

The review found the following as affecting most of our nurses; post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress reaction, generalised anxiety disorder, depression and over indulgence in substances.
Nursing managers, the patients as well members of the community need to play a pivotal role in ensuring protective factors towards nurses’ mental health are availed.

The good thing is that this can be ensured by helping nurse build resilience, having debriefing sessions for nurses working in trauma care and having measures like retreats to name but a few. Nurses need to be healthy for them to be custodians for “health for all”.

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