Analysis: WALA NALUNGWE
A NERVOUS breakdown is a serious mental health issue that requires professional treatment.
It is triggered by an excess of stress and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms to manage that stress.
The level of stress that causes a breakdown varies from one individual to another and whilst it builds up slowly over months for some, it can also occur all at once.
Many of us experience high levels of stress, however, not everyone experiences a nervous breakdown.
People respond to stressful life events in various ways depending on their ability to withstand mental stress. Two people exposed to the same stressful event may not react in the same way, one may have better coping skills and a strong social support system while the other may have poor coping skills and little or no social support, as a result the one with the healthy coping skills and positive social support will thrive in highly stressful conditions than the other.
A nervous breakdown is the result of one’s inability or poor ability to cope with and manage stress. Some of the common stressors or factors that may lead to a nervous breakdown include, family duties, taking on too many responsibilities, work pressure, divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, financial hardship, a traumatic event like abuse and academic pressure.
At PsycHealth Zambia, we have seen an increase in the number of people seeking help for depression, anxiety and stress that has been brought on by some of the factors mentioned above. We help people to create better coping mechanisms, overcome their challenges and ultimately lead more balanced lives. The growing number of people seeking help at our facility only collaborates what we have witnessed in the increasing number of people committing suicide, and more specifically, the growing number of policemen that have resorted to violence and ultimately suicide.
Law enforcement officers are exposed to more stress inducing situations than other occupations due the nature of their job. They are sometimes expected to perform duties that may result in loss of life. They may also be exposed to the effects of violent crimes as they work to solve cases involving rape, murder, assault and the like. All these add to the build-up of mental stress. Aside from work-related stress, they like any other person have to navigate difficult social situations such as marital disputes, family disputes, financial strain and other social challenges. When stress is left unaddressed or managed using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol misuse and the use of other mind altering substances, it can adversely impact on an individual’s general health and mental health and may result in violent outbursts, depression and suicide.
There is a need to ensure that law enforcement officers are monitored and given access to mental health services.
Every employer should make deliberate efforts to ensure that they have policies that support stress management in the workplace, this is especially important for law enforcement agencies and other high risk occupations.
Work stress is a common cause of many nervous breakdowns and anyone in any job may experience this as a result of being overworked or working long hours, being a poor fit for a particular job or duties, doing work that is not meaningful and even having difficult relationships with co-workers.
Employers should invest in programmes that prevent burn out for their employees; this may include having regular mental health talks, ensuring that they have psychologists that employees can talk to about their challenges or a referral system to a mental health facility that would be able to provide these services. They can also ensure that their employees take vacations, as rest is an important element in managing stress.
Culturally, mental health challenges are associated with stigma and this makes it very difficult for people to openly seek help. Many people wait until they have a nervous breakdown before they seek help. This can be prevented if people were open about their challenges and are able to seek help without feeling embarrassed.
Other barriers to mental health service utilisation are traditional and religious beliefs. Awareness raising on mental health will help break those barriers and increase the number of people seeking mental health services without feeling uncomfortable about it. The recently passed Mental Health Bill by Parliament provides hope that more guidelines on service provision will make mental health services more available and accessible.
Acknowledging that mental health challenges are just like any other illness and can be prevented, treated or managed will go a long way in ensuring that we have a healthy workforce that is performing to the best of their ability, this will in turn increase productivity and prevent the recent incidences of suicide cases.
The author is a counsellor at PsycHealth Zambia.
Analysis: WALA NALUNGWE