The Time Is Now: Why Mental Health In Nigeria Is Misunderstood & How This Is Being Addressed

Freelance contribution from Sally

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Why is there still such a stigma surrounding mental health problems? This question is one that is applicable to almost every part of the globe, but Africa faces increasing problems with mental health issues, especially the three severe mental illness (chronic depression, bipolar and schizophrenia). Nigeria is no different in this regard. Whilst it is one of the most populous countries on the continent it is estimated that 20- 30% of Nigerians are badly affected by mental illness. However, there are those websites that promote healthy living that can have a significant effect on poor health. That fact remains though that more needs to be done to help conquer the severe effects of illnesses such as Schizophrenia in Nigeria.

What Is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is not only feeling down. Whilst mild forms of depression, as well as Seasonal Affective Disorder where one experiences depression during certain seasonal changes, fall on the spectrum, some mental illnesses are extremely debilitating and can impact on the entire life of the affected person. Eating disorders and anxiety disorders are common but misdiagnosed serious mental illnesses. Other illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar do not only have depression as one of their symptoms. Both mental disorders are characterised by psychosis and suicidal intentions. The lack of understanding of these symptoms has lead to major problems in Nigeria with those showing symptoms of psychosis where the person having the episode can see and hear things that are not there, are labelled as crazy and get publicly beaten and deprived of essential human rights.

Why Does Nigeria Not Know About Mental Illness?

The answer to this question seems to be a simple one but poses great challenges for Nigeria’s health sector.

  • First, there are ingrained beliefs about mental illness which include the ideas that God or sorcery or witchcraft are responsible for the person’s illness and as such “traditional medicine” is sought as treatment, rather than the effective combination of psychiatric drugs and counselling.

  • Second, there appears to be little research done on the subject and few psychiatrists and psychologists exist in the country. Therefore, the clinical understanding of the scope of mental health challenges, as well as the ability to treat them, is limited.

  • Third, as a result of poor research, little public education is done and thus many members of the population continue to hold on to the idea that mental illness is caused by something “otherworldly”, rather than by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Steps Towards Rectifying The Problem

Fortunately, organizations are starting to emerge to address Nigeria’s mental health issues. They are generally non-profit, and they aim at not only educating those affected by the illnesses, but they are also looking into ways to improve treatment option for schizophrenia.

They also seek to increase awareness of where those experiencing symptoms of illnesses such as chronic depression or anxiety can go for treatment.

In spite of the fact that Nigeria is affected by a misunderstanding of mental illness, a positive future appears to be a reality as more and more organizations raise awareness about mental health and how to treat any related illnesses.

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