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:
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.
POSITIVE INFLUENCE OF CULTURE ON MENTAL HEALTH
An avid reader of the column engaged me recently and implored that I unravel how culture has an influence on mental health and in this segment will try usher a response.
As asserted by Satcher (2001), cultural dynamics do play a significant role in influencing perceptions, beliefs and practices of community members towards mental illness and treatment. Whilst there is a universal conformity to what entails mental illness, the illness is defined by what a certain culture perceives as abnormal pertaining to their values. Cultural practices can adversely affect mental health.
For example, robing a widow in black for a year is a risk factor to mental illnesses like depression as the clothes are a constant reminder of his/her loss coupled with many restrictions imposed on them.
The discussion will focus on those that promote mental health. During bereavement, we often gather at the family of the deceased to convey support with close family members even moving in to stay for a few days. This is indeed a buffer to development of mental illness as family support is critical in dealing with our everyday challenges. This gesture prevents social isolation which is a risk factor.
Poverty has previously been cited as one of the social determinants of mental health. Our culture has a practice known as “mafisa” which promotes helping the underprivileged. This is a welcome practice as it serves as a protective factor hence mental illness development being annihilated.
Batswana by tradition often encourage dialogue whenever an issue arises. “Molemo wa kgang ke go buiwa”, so goes an old Tswana adage. This augurs well for positive mental as individuals are able to catharsise feelings and there is conflict resolution.
Elderly people are often encouraged by our customs to stay with the eldest daughter. This prevents social isolation brought by “empty nest syndrome” and avail resources for quality health outcome. Studies have shown that when the elderly do not stay alone, depressive symptoms are markedly reduced.
These few cultural practices outlined above indeed shows that we do not need rocket science to promote mental health! The strategies our in our midst.
THERE IS NEED FOR A ROBUST SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMME
The 2018 PSLE, JCE results have been released and we are still waiting for those of BGCSE. In most of the deliberations post the results, mental health was never brought up as a factor of influence.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that mental health problems affect academic performance. According to a 2016 research paper by Dr Gerd Schulte-Kone, “about 10-20% of children have a mental health problem of some type.” Children and adolescents are often the age group that mainly attends school and incur these myriad of mental health challenges.
The challenges include learning disorders, conduct disorders, depression, ADHD, substance use problems, bullying which in one way or another affect academic performance of students. With the advent of mental health problems, students are bound to fail, become truant, skip classes and even drop from school. There has been instances of students experiencing anxiety disorders during examination time culminating in them in ultimately failing.
The various mental health problems highlighted above could have specific tailor made strategies to address them but there is need for a robust school mental health programme. Schools should not wait for a crisis to bring in the expertise of mental health professionals but rather strive for prevention as “prevention is better than cure.” Other strategies could entail the following;
Having a fully-fledged mental health department within the school set up
Periodic mental health screening of students
Rigorous mental health awareness training for all teachers to enable them to identify students with challenges
Having strategies to curb bullying
Integrating mental health education into the curriculum to nurture kids at a young age
Teachers themselves do experience emotional stressors in relation to the nature of their job. Teachers endure verbal abuse and is some quarters physical violence from students which may facilitate development of emotional and psychological problems. It is nigh we have mental health programmes within the school set up that also includes teachers.
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