Stress: An Underrated Medical Risk Factor in The Gambia

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Dr. Muhammed Lamin Touray

By: Dr. Muhammed Lamin Touray

In The Gambia, a serene nation with a rich cultural tapestry and breathtaking landscapes, stress often goes unrecognized as a significant medical risk factor. While external factors such as infectious diseases and malnutrition have historically garnered attention, the silent and insidious impact of stress on both physical and mental health is often underestimated. This article aims to shed light on the pervasive nature of stress in Gambian society, exploring its physiological and psychological consequences and advocating for increased awareness and proactive measures to mitigate this often overlooked health risk.

Understanding Stress:

Definition and Types of Stress:

Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism. While acute stress is a short-term reaction to immediate challenges, chronic stress persists over an extended period, posing more profound health risks.

Sources of Stress in Gambian Society:

  1. Socioeconomic Pressures: Economic disparities and financial uncertainties contribute to stress, affecting urban and rural populations.
  2. Health Insecurity: Limited access to healthcare and concerns about infectious diseases amplify stress, especially in the face of global health challenges.
  3. Educational Strains: The competitive academic environment places significant stress on students, impacting their mental well-being.

The Physiological Impact of Stress:

  1. Cardiovascular Consequences:

Chronic stress is closely linked to cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension and heart disease. Elevated stress hormones contribute to increased blood pressure, a known precursor to more severe cardiac issues.

  1. Immune System Compromise:

Prolonged stress weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and compromising the body’s ability to mount an effective defense against diseases.

iii. Metabolic Effects:

Stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone associated with the body’s “fight-or-flight” response. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to metabolic imbalances, contributing to conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

The Psychological Toll of Stress:

  1. Mental Health Disorders:

Chronic stress is a significant contributor to mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. The stigma surrounding mental health issues in Gambian society often exacerbates the impact of stress on psychological well-being.

  1. Cognitive Impairment:

Prolonged exposure to stress has been linked to cognitive impairment and an increased risk of neurodegenerative conditions. Stress-related cognitive decline may have implications for the aging population in The Gambia.

Cultural Perspectives on Stress:

  1. Cultural Stigma:

In Gambian society, discussing mental health and acknowledging stress can be stigmatized. This cultural attitude may prevent individuals from seeking the necessary support and contribute to the underestimation of stress as a medical risk factor.

  1. Traditional Coping Mechanisms:

While traditional Gambian practices often promote community support and a strong social fabric, the changing socio-economic landscape may necessitate a reevaluation of traditional coping mechanisms to address contemporary stressors.

Gender Disparities in Stress:

Societal Expectations:

Traditional gender roles and societal expectations may place unique stressors on men and women in Gambian society. Understanding and addressing these gender-specific stressors are crucial for promoting holistic health.

Coping Mechanisms and Stress Management:

  1. Educational Programs:

Implementing educational programs to raise awareness about stress and its impact on health is vital. This includes promoting stress management techniques and coping strategies at the community level.

  1. Workplace Initiatives:

Encouraging supportive work environments and implementing stress reduction programs in workplaces can contribute to improving overall well-being among employees.

iii. Mental Health Advocacy:

Destigmatizing mental health issues through targeted advocacy campaigns and community engagement initiatives is essential to encourage individuals to seek help when needed.

The Role of Healthcare Professionals:

  1. Integrated Healthcare:

Healthcare providers should adopt a holistic approach that considers both physical and mental health. Integrating mental health services into primary healthcare can contribute to early identification and management of stress-related conditions.

  1. Training and Sensitization:

Continuous training and sensitization programs for healthcare professionals can enhance their ability to recognize and address stress-related issues in patients.

Conclusion:

Stress is a pervasive and underrated medical risk factor in The Gambia, impacting both physical and mental health. Acknowledging and addressing stress is crucial for the overall well-being of individuals and the nation as a whole. Through comprehensive awareness campaigns, education, and the integration of mental health services, The Gambia can pave the way for a healthier, more resilient society that recognizes and mitigates the impact of stress on its citizens. In the pursuit of a holistic healthcare approach, it is imperative to reevaluate cultural attitudes, promote gender-sensitive strategies, and foster a supportive environment that prioritizes mental and physical well-being.

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