Saliu Fatiat Adefunke
Regardless of the efforts made by medical practitioners around the country, mental health is a concept that still eludes a vast majority. Mental health like physical health should be considered a priority, because only then will a person’s wellbeing be in tip-top shape. Substance abuse, in the same vein, is often a result of people ignoring the status of their mental health, and to cope in certain spaces, especially in academic institutions and work environments, they often turn to abuse substances like marijuana, cocaine, tramadol, etcetera.
Over the years, the final year medical students of the University of Ilorin have made a tradition of doing rallies, outreaches, and medical initiatives as part of their final week activities. This year, their focus is on mental health and substance abuse.
On the 2nd of August, 2021, the 600-level students of medicine launched a mental health rally and walk against substance abuse, in collaboration with Renovare Health Initiative, an organization dedicated to caring for students with mental illnesses and guiding them on the path to a healthier life. The walk started at 11 PM, from the College of Health Sciences (COHS), through the Faculty of Agriculture, the walkway, to the University’s Permanent Site (PS), and ended by 2 PM.
According to the Secretary of the rally’s planning committee, Adeola Adeboade (also a 600-level medical student), the rally was put together to sensitize the students about mental health and substance abuse and is a way for the medical students to give back to society. Oftentimes, students are ignorant about their mental well-being because they are not talking to the right people. They experience a change in character; aggressiveness, feeling tired and aimless, and often turn to abuse substances; caffeine, Coca-Cola, paracetamol, an overdose of prescribed drugs. “There’s an endemic of substance abuse, and people can be easily influenced, so our target audience is students who are not aware that they are experiencing a certain mental illness or the other,” she added.
Ameenat Akinoso, the Head of the rally’s planning committee, thinks that students need to be aware that they need to take breaks and prioritize their mental well-being. Students need to adopt other coping mechanisms that do not include fueling addiction to substances. They need to make sure that their time is well-managed, so they don’t forget to do basic things like eating, drinking, and sleeping at the right time. When asked about the kind of changes she’d hope to see regarding conversations about mental health in the next ten years, she said that she hopes it gets better and people do not shy away from talking about their mental health. “It also needs to be inculcated in academic curricula, and awareness also needs to be raised at the institutional and organisational level,” she concluded.
Fiyin, a 400-level medical student of UNILORIN, is a volunteer with Renovare Health Initiative and she decided to come out with the 600-level students to sensitise other students about the central theme. “With education comes liberation. When people hear about substance abuse, they think it’s only related to illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana, but it’s not limited to it. It can also be called substance abuse when one exceeds the dosage of a doctor’s prescription. People need to be aware that it poses more harm than good.”
Ojo Debrah, another 600-level medical student, believes that substance abuse has gradually become prevalent within the student demographic, and it really shouldn’t be. She also believes that the current prognosis is poor and the impact can be greater if more people speak up about their mental health conditions.