Delusion and mental health

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By Adeoye Oyewole

The craving for meaning is a universal need that transcends race, color, class or religion. This need is equally strong and challenging in our developed countries as it is in the underdeveloped, primitive countries of the world.

I am oftentimes surprised when epidemiological findings demonstrate the substantial incidence of psychiatric disorders in varying populations of our developed world just as it may be in the developing countries.

Even folks who migrate out of our country to seek greener pastures may not be invariably more fulfilled than those have chosen to remain here.

It is amazing how some may even have profound psychological issues and possibly lower scores in quality of life studies. My perplexity is that with the obviously better social and physical infrastructures in terms of electricity, clean environment, solid welfare system, security, transportation, efficient health care and many others; I do not expect anyone to come down with any psychological disorder.

This is not an attempt to celebrate and rationalise the shameful failure of our successive governments to provide basic and fundamental amenities that could make life easier and decent for us especially in a country bountifully blessed with petrodollars.

The point I am attempting to make is that the fundamental, psychological craving for meaning in man is more than the physical.

Abraham Maslow has demonstrated in his theory of hierarchy of needs that all human beings seek self-transcendence over and above survival needs for them to achieve sound mental health.

 This discourse also takes us back to the postulates of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to mention a few. The attempt to satisfy this craving is responsible for the unconscious drive of every man to seek meaning through a concept that is not physical but extraterrestrial and omnipotent.

This concept could find an expression in a place, a representative object, a force, a phenomenon, a political struggle and even atheism. Whatever mode is chosen requires a mechanism for this universal need to be satisfied so that man can be at peace with himself and his environment whether physical or social.

This universal mechanism is faith. I will attempt to define faith by employing the Judeo- Christian definition from Hebrews 11v 1(New International Version), ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’

However, faith has a twin brother; delusion and are both capable of programming the mind forcefully but with separate and qualitatively different results. Faith procures mental health and sustains it by helping man to confront the challenges and puzzles of life that our calculating and rational minds cannot adequately handle. It helps us to remain calm and stable in the most difficult situations of life.

Delusion according to the New Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry learners textbook of psychiatry is defined as ‘A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture’.

Unfortunately by surface definition, delusion is a form of faith that defers a rational process of thought evolution.

It is a central core symptom of mental illness. This is my concern as a psychiatrist for Africans especially Nigerians.
From our cultural genealogy; we are a people prone to delusion rather than faith against the background of our superstitions, myths, folklores and deity worship which usually fail the necessary reality testing that is crucial as a safeguard from delusion. Faith confronts reality with an abstractive intelligence but not a denial of reality. Faith brings to bear an extraterrestrial cognitive concept of tackling the reality of a problem that is not denied.

All the criteria of abnormal behavior are guaranteed by impairment of reality testing guaranteed by delusion rather than faith. Our religious leaders need to understand the principles of delusion as opposed to faith.

Our religious systems especially in Nigeria may be a breeding ground for mental illness unless our religious instructors can free their captives from impaired reality testing as they create an atmosphere of rational engagement of their beliefs.

Everyone must endeavour to develop a personal, rational process and engagement of whatever belief they assimilate as a product of personal conviction. We need to ensure we have more mentally healthy religious communities as we encourage folks to develop healthy concepts in relating with the extraterrestrial.

There should be an intelligent repudiation of irrational overdependence on human agents, use of symbolical articles and suspension of rationality. Religious extremism is a product of delusion that could threaten self, community and set a whole nation ablaze. (Punch)