In This Article
The rambles of traditional medicine sellers through loudspeakers is the hallmark of northern Nigerian markets. We buy a myriad of regimens to strengthen our physical health, but the noun ‘mental health’ sounds unfamiliar to our intellects, even though many people suffer from mental health conditions in northern Nigeria.
To the average northerner, the mentally ill are those communally neglected people that are left to roam the streets with rags, eating insects, worms, and whatever is within their reach in the garbage and dumping sites.
Well, you will no longer look at mental health from this angle after reading this post.
Are We Mentally Healthy?
Mental Health simply means emotional well-being, the ability of a person to cope with the normal stresses of life. Look at its positive side, and do what is beneficial to his/her immediate community.
Research has shown that one out of four people suffers from one mental health condition in northern Nigeria. This means, if there are 8 people in your family, 2 are mentally ill, one might ask: why don’t we see them eating sand or greeting the clouds? It’s because mental illness is wider than what we imagine it to be.
My question goes: are you always able to manage normal stress, see positivity, and do what is beneficial to others? We all are/might be patients at some point in life I suppose.
Time to Change Our Mindset
An average northerner does not count mental disorders among the major causes of physical ailments and morbidity. Also, an average northerner does not believe that western medicine can cure/manage mental disorder patients; hence, we associate mental illnesses with entirely different causes. Take a look at the following instances;
Children with attention deficit disorders who struggle with understanding concepts in school, yet we call them dullards
People with schizophrenia hear, see, and react to hallucinations, they relate to subjects that aren’t real. For that, we blame sorcery, witchcraft, or jinn possession
We believe people with amnesia (memory loss) and dementia (continuous loss of cognitive function) are caused by magical attacks from rivals.
Those suffering from social phobia who find it hard to relate with others and prefer staying in solitude are tagged as arrogant and masu-ji-ji-dakai. If they try socializing, they end up with anger issues due to anxiety disorders and we say they are jarababbu.
Someone afflicted by depression is tagged mai-ƙunci. After enduring and they decide to opt for suicide, they get judged by the community as someone that has no trust in Allah’s plan (maras tawakkali)
Whilst all the above boldly mental health conditions in northern Nigeria and many more could be prevented by family support or managed by doctors, out of unawareness and negligence, we subject the patients to stigma and inhumane treatments.
How Do We Handle the Patients?
Most families regard it as an insult to have a mentally ill individual as their member; others imagine it to be a curse upon the lineage. For that, families and companions relate to the mentally ill in the following inhumanely ways;
Turning deaf ears to the stress, and not giving a damn about the emotional stability of fellows
Restriction of amnesia and dementia patients from meeting friends and guests in a bid to conceal their situation
Chaining schizophreniacs with shackles to restrict movement and ensure the privy of their status
Taking panic attacks and epilepsy (not purely psychiatric) patients to traditional or religious rehabilitation centers, where they get whippings and incantations. A pity!
Giving food leftovers to the mentally ill, abandoning them to sleep on the streets with some even raped in the process.
The Good News Is…
When talking about physical health, we all know that some diseases are curable while others are manageable but none is invincible. The same applies to mental health, by consulting your primary care physician. You can be referred to a mental health specialist for proper treatment of your own or your loved ones’ mental disturbances.
The common signs of mental disorders include:
- Extreme anger and frustration
- Difficulty sleeping, sleeping excessively or other sleeping disorders.
- Excessive fear of events or imaginary situations
- Excessive eating or depressed appetite
- Inattention, depressed mood, and fatigue
- Alternating episodes of fanaticism and depression
- Restlessness for not taking a drug or drink
- Hearing, seeing, believing, or reacting to things or events that are not real.
When you have any of the above signs or notice any of them with a friend or family member, you shouldn’t delay consulting doctors for the condition to be curbed before getting worse. Just like malaria, mental illnesses are trials one should not be ashamed of suffering, seek out proper care. Please.
In addition, you should keep an eye on this space for subsequent posts about mental health awareness and improvements.
Remember; healthy mind, healthy life!