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Depression and our mental health crisis

Dele Bandele took his own life last week after posting on Instagram an emotional story of his battle with depression for years. His dead body…

Dele Bandele took his own life last week after posting on Instagram an emotional story of his battle with depression for years. His dead body was discovered floating in a polluted lagoon in Lagos. But instead of igniting debates about mental health, people have been attacking him for taking his own life, claiming God has reserved him a special place in hell. This criticism is not a tribute but an insult to his family who had spent humongous resources for years treating his depression.

So many researches have linked suicide with chronic depression. In fact depression is the major fact that pushes people into committing suicide.

I struggled with mental health about 10 years ago when I battled eating disorder and addiction. Without a swift intervention from my relatives, I would never have been able to regain my health.  Base on my experience, I would like to state that people suffering from various types of mental health problems deserve our solidarity and support not insults. There are millions of people in Nigeria who are mentally unstable but too poor to afford treatment. Lack of support and discrimination only distances them away from regaining their health.

Mental health crisis in Nigeria has reached a pandemic proportion. With a little more than 300 psychiatrists in a country with more than 200 million population, our policy makers need to wake up to the looming crises that may soon overwhelm us if we do not take urgent step to act. In volatile places like Maiduguri where most of our internally displaced persons are concentrated, during five months I worked as a volunteer, I saw hundreds of people especially women who were badly traumatised by insurgency in the state. The states of their mental health are so bad that some people were roaming the streets with no hope in sight. I shed tears when I travelled to Yerwa refugee camp in Maiduguri. I have seen women who were mad because their husbands were slaughtered and their daughters raped in their presence. I have seen women who have lost everything including homes and their entire family members.  A lot of people are still being haunted by the losses of their loved ones who were summarily executed in the most inhumane way. But sadly, there are virtually no psychiatrists who could attend to them thereby forcing the families to resort to contacting fake traditional doctors who liken their mental health to evil spirits (Jinn).

As we continue to struggle with insecurity, high rate of drug abuse among our youths and near-total absence of policies to deal with mental health, our mental health crisis is likely to worsen in the next few years.

It is high time we revisited the outdated Lunacy Act enacted in 1958 but has never been amended. It is also high time we started taking mental health seriously. One of the first steps is to admit the patients need our supports not insults or discrimination.

Aliyu Bashir Almusawi wrote in from Zoo Road, Kano.