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Nigerianosis – A common ailment

Denrele Animashaun

We can’t look to the world to restore our worth; we’re here to restore our worth to the world. The world outside us can reflect our glory, but it cannot create it. It cannot crown us. Only God can crown us, and he already has.” ¯ Marianne Williamson

When I set out to  write, it was to define the malady or behaviours that seem to plague majority of Nigerians; Nigerianosis. Let me assure you that I made the term  up but I,like many others, agree that if the condition did not exist, it would have to been coined by many Nigerians.

As you are aware,the daily grind in Nigeria piles on  physical and mental assaults on the Nigerian over  time, be it the daily diet of gruesome news, insecurities, spates of kidnapping, multiple bereavements, physical, domestic and sexual abuse violence, fraud, wealth  disparities, frustrations, inadequate health and social care, poverty, high costs of food, fuel subsidies, incompetent politicians, ill health, needless deaths, bad roads, traffic jams, malnutrition, lack of adequate energy, high cost of living, substandard existence, noise pollution, overcrowding, high unemployment, corruption, bribery and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and so on. It renders the Nigerian mentally and physically unwell. Are you with me so far?

Good, ordinarily other people would have gone under and quickly.  No, not the Nigerian, he goes on and on regardless until his body and his spirit can take no more. His resilience is legendary but even so, it means that his life span is shortening drastically as a result.

Like in most black communities, mental health problems remains a taboo and those  afflicted are stigmatised making it difficult to come forward to seek help or early intervention. There are several barriers to treatment for individual Nigerians which include the lack of understanding of the root causes of mental illness; lack of financial support to get mental treatment; lack of social support. Nigerian mental illness is almost exclusively coped with through traditional medicine or spiritual practices. By now am sure many of you are recoiling and whispering “God forbid “or “it  will never happen to me’’. The fact is one  in four of us anywhere in the world will experience mental health problems at  sometime during our life time.

So unless Nigerians are a different breed from the rest of the world then, some people in Nigeria are wallowing in serious denial. All the factors are there that  will impact on  one’s mental  health as I already mentioned. So unless  we  have found ways to  cope  positively with what life  throws at  us, we  are in a bad place  psychologically. Something usually gives and that mainly impacts on our mental health.  So how we cope with these everyday problems and issues depends on our level of resilience. Some bounce back  in no time, for others it takes a while and the rest  if they do  not get medical or psychological interventions,  will deteriorate and unable  to  recover  fully.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian health services are not geared up to deal with mental illnesses. We have only seven mental health hospitals.It works out at 1,092 beds that  is 3.99 per  100,000 population, 8 psychiatrists  0.03 per 100,000, qualified yearly 320 nurses with at least 1 year training in mental health care.  So you see, we do have a problem, a serious problem and we need to address the issues.

How do you know there is a problem?  There is no  clear  answer  other  than if  your  mental  ill health  is impacting on your daily life and you are finding it difficult enjoying your life, or no longer take pleasure in the company of  your friends  and families then you may need  to seek   medical  help.  Prevention is definitely better than cure and has shown to hasten a better recovery.

Having a mental illness is like having a physical illness. And like physical illness, mental illness must be treated with appropriate treatment and care. With prompt response and understanding, one c an  recover and live a full and useful life. I  started  off  with   the  intent   of  looking   at our  general mental health status and  tongue-in-cheek attempted  to  explain why some Nigerians behave the  way  that they do.  In doing so I realise that our country has indeed failed us, our culture prevents  us from accepting, that like physical ill health, we also  can  succumb to   mental ill health.

Our leaders condone the silence and perpetuate the prejudice and stigmatisation of those with  mental  health  problems. Our  education is  inadequate and  fails to give us  the  tools  to  help  us deal  with our  mental  health deficits.

Our Government fails us without adequate facilities and means to treatment for mental   health problems. It leaves  many  vulnerable in the hands of untrained, dangerous, abusive charlatans.  Nigerians  are  in need of  appropriate and effective mental health promotion and  it  should begin right  from school and only then can  we begin  to  take in the  extent  of  the emotional  damage  that  the  day  to  day  living  has taken  a  toll  on  its   people.

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