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Mental health awareness: An underrated conversation in Nigeria

According to the World Health Organisation statistics released in January 2022 over 20,000,000 Nigerians are currently suffering from various degrees of mental illness or disorder…

According to the World Health Organisation statistics released in January 2022 over 20,000,000 Nigerians are currently suffering from various degrees of mental illness or disorder without psychiatric health care. 

Many Nigerians today, especially the youths, suffer from one or two mental health issues that are either being mistaken as “clout” or termed “spiritual problems.” The most common of them are depression and anxiety. 

Depression is characterised by loneliness, sadness, stress, hopelessness, feeling of emptiness and loss of interest in daily life activities that lasts more than a week at most.  

A lot of youths these days suffer from mental health issues that they do not even talk about because they fear stigmatisation. This happens too often and especially with some African parents that have little or no understanding of mental health.  

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Parents do not understand the gravity of what their children sometimes go through and this affects their relationship with their children- pushing them to the verge of loneliness, emptiness and even worse, committing suicide. 

Anxiety also proves to be one of the prominent problems these days. A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome, a certain fear about everyday situations. It makes one worry about what may not happen or is yet to happen. Anxiety often comes with fast heart rates, irregular and rapid breathing and sweating. It makes people fidget, second guessing what things are before they even start. 

Nigerian parents see this as no big deal or worse, as a spiritual issue and they would rather take the child to a church to get deliverance than try to listen to what the child is going through. 

Most times, when these victims speak up, people see them as attention seekers and tend to ignore them and their way. However, the same people weep, cry and wonder why they would do something as “drastic” as taking their own life instead of talking through the pain.  

One of the ways to deal or live with anyone going through these mental health illness is to listen with an open mind without passing judgment or to continue to show care and support; to show that you believe what they are going through and not undermine what the situation is; to release positive energy around them and not try to choke them with negativity. 

I believe that a lot of Nigerian parents need orientation on mental health issues because each year, the suicide rate keeps adding up and most of them are young people with promising future and all they ever needed was a conversation and a little bit of faith and trust.  

Most people in psychiatric hospitals did not end up there because of a spell that was cast upon them by their ‘village people’ or because they indulged in cannabis but because of severe mental health issues that might have been ignored.  

Some have made efforts to spread awareness and I urge us to reach out and help. 

Lawal Mariam can be reached via [email protected]

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