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Mental health consequences of social change

Written by Adeoye Oyewole - Nigeria

Adeoye Oyewole 
There is a popular saying that the only constant thing in life is change. It may sound novel, but it is empirically true.

I believe that the consequences of being human gives us a brain with the capacity to interact with our environment, with the ultimate goal of modifying it, resulting in social change which is an alteration in the social order of a society that includes changes in nature, social institutions, social behaviours and social relations.

This may refer to the notion of social evolution, with the philosophical idea that society moves forward through evolutionary means like a shift from feudalism to capitalism. Accordingly, social change carries the connotation of a social revolution driven by cultural, religious, economic, scientific or technological forces.

This is the consequence of globalisation of values through which weaker and dependent countries comply with certain economic conditions, thereby opening up their social and economic vaults, leading to social change.

Principles of developmental psychology are very crucial in understanding and managing change, whether at personal, national or global level. Managers of change should not just concentrate on the political and socio-economic dimensions but on the grave mental health consequences.

Essentially, social change is a combination of systems, along with some random factors all the time. Some major current social changes include global demographic shifts. Population growth among developed cultures has been slow since the 1950s, but not slow in the developing countries.

Social changes also occur in gendered patterns of work, such that changes from distinct men and women's work pattern to more gender-equal patterns have been economically important since the mid 20th century.

The world as a global village has brought in so much challenge to the socio-cultural dynamics of developing countries. Nigeria is a melting point of diverse influences, with implication at personal and national level.

The peculiar composition of Nigeria as an amalgamation of several nations makes her vulnerable to challenges at political, social and economic dimensions. The agitation of the constituent nations for survival in the political space is an issue of social change. The alteration of our traditional patriarchal leadership model is being challenged with socio-political and socio-economic consequences. The mismanagement of the process of change has produced many militant groups and, of late, terrorist groups.

Nigeria is in a season of change, especially at the political level, against the background of dwindling economic resources, leaving many state governments unable to pay monthly salary for as long as six months. This has negative impact on the mental health of the people, which is crucial for our collective and individual ability to enjoy life.

Poor mental health is associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discriminations, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, physical ill health and human rights violations.

A climate that respects and protects basic civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights is fundamental to mental health promotion. Without the security and freedom provided by these rights, it is very difficult to maintain a high level of mental health.

Although the government has many political issues to tackle, it is pertinent that national mental health policies engineered by government should also recognise and address the broader issues that promote mental health. This includes mainstreaming mental health promotion into programmes of government and non government sectors.

In addition to the health sector, it is essential to involve the education, labour, justice, transport, environment, housing, transport and welfare issues as well. The consequence of social change on the mental health of the population is enormous and should be proactively considered and managed.

Individuals need to proactively develop adaptive coping mechanisms as we navigate this social change that may take some toll on our mental health resources.

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