What Is The Public Response To Mental Health In Nigeria?
The rise in cases of suicide in Nigeria is a call to take mental health more seriously.
There is a long-standing misconception in Nigeria, especially among parents, that mental health issues are a foreign concept. It is downright difficult to know which is worse. Parents who completely ignore your mental health issues or the ones who drag you to the pastor for prayers instead of a mental health expert.
The only time most older people come around to believing that someone is mentally ill is when the said person go stark naked and starts eating food from the dump. That is the kind of gaze with which mental illness is looked upon mostly by the aforementioned demographic in Nigeria. And even in these cases, no adequate treatment is usually provided.
God forbid your mental state leads you to kill yourself, you become a thing of mockery and judgement even before your body finds its final resting place. People cite you as a case study in their presumptuous rants. Life is hard for everyone—why were you not as strong as they are?
At a mental health action committee and stakeholders workshop, Mr. Abdulaziz Abdullahi, the permanent secretary to Nigeria's ministry of health, bemoaned the state of mental health issues in the country.
“In Nigeria, an estimated 20–30 per cent of our population are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number, considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is inadequate,” Mr Abdullahi said in his remarks at the event sent to PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Abdullahi further decried the level of awareness of Nigerians on mental health, describing it as understandably poor, with lots of misconceptions.
“By 2020, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders, will disable more people than complications arising from HIV/AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and wars combined,” he warned.
Also, according to Aljazeera, Nigeria ranks 15th in the world for suicide. Nothing speaks volumes about the way Nigeria handles mental health than the fact that in the face of such damning statistics, Nigeria only has eight public mental health hospitals. And just one of those facilities is in Northeastern Nigeria where people are still suffering from the traumas caused by the war between government forces and the Boko Haram.
Mental health advocates are doing their best. The nonprofit NEEM Foundation offers counselling services via kekes, or motorized tricycle taxis, while counsellors with the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) use social media platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter to reach people.
But the government of Nigeria needs to aid the work of non-governmental organisations. The government should make mental health facilities accessible to all as well as launching an aggressive mental health awareness campaign.