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.
MENTAL HEALTH FOR PRISON OFFICERS
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!
INTERNATIONAL NURSES DAY: REFLECTING ON THE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES OF NURSES
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”.