Doris Obinna and Henry Uche
There is an alarming increase in the rate of suicide and depression in Nigeria, especially among the young and adolescent, says a study. This year’s World Mental Health Day came at a time when daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commemorated every October 10, this year’s theme was, “Move for Mental Health: Let’s Invest.” Chief Medical Director, S.S. Memorial Hospital, Lagos, Dr Christopher Ihenacho, said, the government has invested nothing in regards to mental health: “You see everything happening in Nigeria. People have not recovered from the reckless policies, increase in electricity bill, increase in premium motor spirit (fuel), and others.”
Mental health among Nigerians
Ihenacho said: “In Nigeria today, it is only a meagre fraction of the total population, not more than 20 per cent, that are in their rightful mind-set. Look at the environment, people are aggressive, people are provoked at any slight offense because they are not happy at all.
“In Nigeria, an estimated 20 per cent to 30 per cent of our populations are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million.
“Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish.
“Over 102 million Nigerians are very poor. I am not unmindful of the fact that it is only those who have turned this global pandemic into their boom period that are happy. That is people who have taken advantage of this critical period to enrich themselves.
“I have not seen people being mentally disturbed ever than this year. Most of the cases we handle now are no longer conventional but psychological, people are troubled, and some are silently getting insane.
“The level of hypertension in the society now is becoming unbearable. Imagine how people are suffering. How do you expect people to be mentally okay when everything points to negative? The whole cause of these is the government. They came up to aggravate the excruciating plight of the people.
“The government should establish a coffin manufacturing factory for Nigerians because people are dying everyday because of depression. Those who die in their homes far outnumbered those you see jumping into the lagoon. Nobody is mentally balanced in Nigeria today, even the so-called ruling class, they are going through mental torture because the silent but troubling voices of the masses are keeping them restless.
“If they can say the truth, look, their problem is not money or material things, I mean the politicians, their problems are self-inflicted by the burden the masses heaped on them because they have stepped on toes like those who deny the masses palliatives and other gifts made for the people. So they too have no rest. Forget about how they appear, they have no peace and would never until they do the needful as the right time.
“Even the armed forces in the name of Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), are brutalizing citizens; you have seen the protest across the South to end SARS. I am afraid they have not really ended SARS, because a new one will suffice. So, is it in monetary or otherwise?
“Our government is not compassionate at all. They are not empathic. The rest of the world are doing everything possible to make their citizens maintain stable mental condition, here what do we get? Anti-people policies.
“Given past experience of emergencies, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
“This is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health. Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as COVID-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus.
“Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical, health.”
World Health Organisation- Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS) shows that the prevalence of mental disorders among prison inmates is significantly higher than the general population globally and in Nigeria with prevalence rates ranging from 34 per cent to 57 per cent, as compared to a prevalence of 5.8 per cent in the general Nigerian population.
Causes of mental disorders
Mental disorders are generally characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. The World Health Organisation (WHO), said mental disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia and developmental disorders including autism.
Ihenacho said: “There are effective strategies for preventing mental disorders such as depression. There are effective treatments for mental disorders and ways to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
“Access to health care and social services capable of providing treatment and social support is key. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world.”
How to avoid mental disorder
He advised: “The society at large should strive to maintain their equanimity. They should endeavour to take it easy. People should now open their eyes and end bad governance by nibbling it in the bud by using their voter’s cards.
“Now the people have seen it very clearly that the same people they elected to protect their interests disappointed them woefully during COVID-19 pandemic. A bad government is a cankerworm.
“Attention was diverted from Ondo election to #EndSARS, else what happened in Edo would have repeated. People should also watch and pray, since we know how to pray a lot in Nigeria.
“Note that mental health is as important as physical health. I want to also implore people to be considerate, compassionate and empathic to one another in any contractual relationship. We didn’t expect the pandemic but we hope on God for economic recovery.”