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More Nigerians risk depression, peptic ulcers, others with rising food prices, experts say 

Angela Onwuzoo 

Mental and nutrition health experts have said that the rising cost of living crisis facing Nigerian families is placing heavy stress on them, warning that this could expose more people to physical and mental health problems.

According to the experts, economic stress and lack of access to healthy foods can predispose citizens to depression, peptic ulcer diseases, sleep disorders, more frequent asthmatic attacks, and migrainous headaches, among others.

The experts noted that Nigerians should pay more attention to their health and well-being in this period, more now than ever, stressing that it could help them prevent serious health issues.

The President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Prof. Taiwo Obindo, in an exclusive interview with PUNCH Healthwise, said the economic situation had made people find themselves thinking a lot without solutions.

The Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos said, “The rising inflation can impact the mental health of Nigerians, particularly in people at risk or predisposed to developing depression. Those are people who have not developed resilience.

“When some people are not able to meet their needs and obligations and are not able to think up ways out of the ‘mess’, a cascade of faulty cognitive processes sets in.

“People find themselves thinking a lot without solutions. Feeling or having a sense of failure. Thought of death (suicidal behaviour) may set in.

“There would then be a downward spiral in the people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour.”

The psychiatrist said Nigerians may begin to contend with physical and mental health problems when they are unable to meet up with the necessities of life.

Some of the physical health conditions that could arise from the situation according to him include elevated blood pressure or poorly controlled BP despite taking medication.

“Glucose intolerance or diabetes mellitus or poor sugar control, peptic ulcer diseases, more frequent asthmatic attacks or development of asthma, migrainous headaches or tension headaches.

“Others are irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis, recurrence of catarrh, and upper respiratory tract infection due to lowered immunity, acne, pimples or other skin lesions,” he said.

Prof. Obindo pointed out that many mental illnesses may develop from the rising cost of living depending on the vulnerability or risks.

According to him, the commonest ones include anxiety disorders, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress reaction, adjustment disorder, depression, and sleep disorders.

The psychiatrist, however, suggested what Nigerians could do to reduce the impact of the situation.

He said, “People need to know and accept the fact that by worrying, the situation will not go away and it cannot be wished away.

“Rather than lamenting about the situation, concrete steps should be made to think out a way out.

“Hope is another ingredient to hold unto. The hope that things will surely get better someday is important.

“Appraising what brought us to this quagmire and what steps to take to redress the wrong.”

Continuing, he said “Knowledge about the harms overthinking may do to the whole system, especially our mental health is crucial. Knowing that there is no health without mental health.

“Seeking help early if any of the symptoms above are noticed and it is protracting must be stressed.

“Giving thought to and promoting mental health and preventing themselves from developing mental break down is equally important.”

He, however, urged the political leaders to ensure that the mental health of Nigerians is given priority attention.

“Nigerians should advocate for increased attention to mental health, increased budgetary allocation for mental health, and the passage of mental health bill,” he stressed.

On the part of the government, the psychiatrist said efforts should be made to improve the quality of life of the citizenry.

“Basic needs should be attended to such as efforts at reducing the cost of food, provision of shelter, and providing security of lives and property.

“Increased awareness and sensitization on mental health. Implementing the Mental Health Policy of 2013 where Mental Health was meant to be incorporated into Primary Health Care,” he added.

Also, the President of the Federation of African Nutrition Societies, Prof. Ngozi Nnam, told our correspondent that the rising inflation could increase cases of malnutrition and anaemia among pregnant women in Nigeria because the prices of foods have gone out of the reach of many.

Nnam, a professor of Community and Public Health Nutrition at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, says a pregnant woman is supposed to feed well and have an adequate diet at all times for optimal development of the foetus.

Highlighting the dangers of poor nutrition in pregnancy, Nnam said, “Poor nutrition will cause inadequate development of the baby because nutrients are required for cells of the foetus to develop properly.

“Nutrient such as iron is very important in the development of the cells.

“When a pregnant woman stops taking foods rich in iron, she will be deficient in iron and that deficiency will affect the foetus and the cells will not form properly and this will lead to malformation when the baby is born.”

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