The most prevalent mental health issue worldwide is?

As of 2023, the most common mental health disorder worldwide is anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are prevalent conditions that affect a significant number of people across the globe.

Overview of Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders encompass a range of mental health conditions characterised by excessive worry, fear, or nervousness. These feelings can be overwhelming and persistent, leading to significant distress and interference with daily life activities.

Prevalence: Anxiety disorders have become a prevalent global mental health concern. In 2019, 301 million people lived with an anxiety disorder, including 58 million children and adolescents. As of 2023, many more millions of individuals are estimated to be affected by anxiety disorders, making it one of the most widespread mental health conditions worldwide. Followed by depression which, In 2019, had a global prevalence of about 280 million people, including 23 million children and adolescents, says WHO. 

Types of Anxiety Disorders: Several types of anxiety disorders exist, including:

  1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Excessive worry and anxiety about various life events or activities.
  2. Panic Disorder: Recurrent panic attacks, often accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.
  3. Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Intense fear of social situations and judgment by others.
  4. Specific Phobias: Overwhelming fear of specific objects, places, or situations.

Symptoms: Symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary depending on the specific type but may include:

  1. Restlessness or feeling on edge
  2. Fatigue or tiredness
  3. Muscle tension
  4. Difficulty concentrating
  5. Irritability
  6. Sleep disturbances
  7. Avoidance of triggering situations or places

Peculiar to Nigerians, symptoms include frequent headaches, difficulty in falling asleep, flushing, difficulty in concentrating, rapid or irregular heart beating, weakness, hot flashes, dizziness, feeling of something crawling in the head, heaviness of the head, aches and pains, nervousness, poor appetite, poor sight, nightmares, and chest pain (Nigerians generally and Muslims specifically tend to somatise (read my next article for more explanation of what somatise means) their symptoms. So rather than they and their Doctors realising it is a mental health issue, it is seen as a physical health issue). 

Causes: Anxiety disorders can arise from a combination of factors, including:

  1. Genetics: A family history of anxiety or mood disorders may increase the risk.
  2. Environmental Factors: Traumatic events, stress, and significant life changes can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.
  3. Neurochemical Imbalance: Altered brain chemistry, including imbalances in neurotransmitters, may play a role.
  4. Spiritual struggles: Doubts, guilt, or fear related to faith or religious obligations.
  5. Cultural expectations: Sociocultural pressures and expectations that may influence mental health experiences, especially within the Muslim ummah.

Peculiar to Nigeria, mental health issues such as anxiety are linked to environmental factors such as poor economic conditions, rising illiteracy, marriage crisis, violence against women and children, polygamy, banditry, large family, and unpredictable government and its policies, unemployment, among others.

Treatment: Effective treatments for anxiety disorders are available. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), is often recommended as a first-line treatment. Effective faith-inclined treatments and support for anxiety disorders are available for Muslims. Seeking help from qualified mental health professionals who are sensitive to Islamic values and practices is crucial. Islamic counselling and therapy that incorporates Quranic teachings and spirituality can be beneficial. Medications, such as anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants, may also be prescribed in certain cases. Lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and support from loved ones can be a source of comfort and encouragement in the journey towards healing and recovery.

Raising Awareness and Support: Within the Muslim community, it is essential to raise awareness about mental health and anxiety disorders, reduce stigma, and promote a supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable seeking help. Encouraging open discussions about mental health within Islamic settings, such as mosques and community centres, can foster a culture of understanding and empathy.

Please remember that mental health information can evolve over time, and it is crucial to stay updated with the latest research and data. If you or someone you know within the Muslim community is experiencing symptoms of anxiety or any other mental health issue and self-help isn't working, seeking help from qualified mental health providers who respect and understand Islamic values is highly recommended.

As Muslims, we should know that Allah can test us with anything, from being tested with physical illness to being tested with mental illness. When any one of us struggles with anxiety or other mental health issues, we should know it is a test from Allah. 

Hauwa Bello.

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