I think it’s high time we start a conversation around mental health in Nigeria. Presently, the cases of suicide, anxiety and depression are increasing rapidly, particularly among young adults. To narrow things down, the rate of depression and anxiety among students is rising every year, and nothing is being done in Nigeria. The Nigerian government and educational institutions are just sitting on their hands and ignoring the fact that students, unemployed individuals, families and everyone one else are fighting mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.
In developed and few African countries, the government has put support in place for people with mental health issues and a consultation for people that are going through psychological issues or challenges. Why is it that people in Nigeria and other African countries associate mental health with people being physical or in appearance crazy? One thing people should understand is, one can suffer or be fighting mental issues without any change in physical appearance or behaviour. Someone can look calm, chill and smile but behind that calmness, chillness and smiley face, is a person going through crazy thoughts; feeling unloved; frustrated; feeling unwanted; thinking everything they do is wrong, not enough, not being recognised, and not been appreciated; deep down they feel like people are judging them and to some extent they wonder if this life is worth it.
People that are going through all these things should be loved; they need someone to tell them they are here for them; they need to know they are not alone in these dark times; they need to be listened to; they need a friend and a shoulder to cry on. They don’t want someone that will pretend to know what they are going through; they don’t want someone that will tell them to suck it up or to forget about it; they don’t need someone that will tell them everything is in their head; they don’t need someone that wouldn’t understand or support them. When people that are going through these mental health challenges meet or have someone that tell them everything is in their head or they should suck it up, worse things happens, like self-harm and even suicide attempts. However, if they meet people that understand them and give them a shoulder to cry on, as well as support them in every way they can, these people tend to recover or find a way to cope with the challenges especially if help comes from their friends or families.
In the UK, every organisation, school, university and some communities have consultation helpline like mental health support call, text among other communication means to help people that are going through hard times at home, school and work to call and get help. In the UK, student union help students to drop by or call for any kind of support even emotional, the services help students with free counselling and consultation. They even refer students to other more professional support if they need more help or assistance. Because of these, mental health issue has so much recognition and people know where to get help if they need it; people are able to talk to their families and friends about their mental health challenges and they get support from them and a shoulder to cry on without buckling things up.
In Nigeria, anyone facing mental health challenges is on his/her own. They are afraid of been judged, stigmatised, and discriminated. The grown ups are the reason why people don’t share their challenges, this is due to the undeveloped cultural and social beliefs they inherited from their forefathers. Their beliefs are: people with mental health issues are cursed, they are being possessed by evil spirit or their enemies have cast a spell on them which can only be broken through other spiritual means. People with ‘’physical’’ mental health issues are receiving inhuman treatment in most cities of Nigeria, they are being chained, beaten, locked up and most families are disowning their children because of their condition.
Those that are facing ‘’none physical’’ mental health issues are afraid of sharing their problems; they are afraid of been disowned or taking into mental hospital; they are afraid of being isolated either by their families or friends; they are afraid of community labelling. Because of these, suicide rate in Nigeria is rising every day. There is no workable support to help those that need help; the social labelling by the communities and peers is making it hard for people to share their feelings and the challenges they are battling mentally. These force those with the challenges to adapt a false persona by pretending to be calm, chill and smiley to look like everything is fine when is not.