Mental Health — a Taboo in Nigeria?

Photo by Robin Hammond

Mental Health is a topic that many people in the Nigerian community act oblivious to. They believe mental illness is caused by a spiritual factor and have one simple diagnosis for those who display their mental illness, “He’s Mad!” People with mental illness carry a very negative stigma that often hinders progress in society.

During my most recent trip to Nigeria, many relatives and family friends inquired about my career path and long-term goals. When I told them I was on the path of studying to be a Licensed Mental Health social worker, I received so many puzzled faces. We all know the stereotype, African career path options are: Doctor, Lawyer. Engineer or Accountant. Anything else you is just “alien” to them. Nevertheless, I stood my ground explaining to them what exactly I am planning to use my degree to do and how I desire to help people suffering from various mental illness.

Don’t be afraid to get help

Let’s pinpoint Nigeria. According to a 2006 study by World Health Organization, About 3.3% of the health budget of the central government goes to mental health, with over 90% of this going to mental hospitals. With only 3.3% of the health budget going towards mental health, 97% of funding goes to other health expenditures. Why is this? This is because many Nigerians do not see mental illness as a detrimental illness that requires much funding. Primary healthcare services do not deliver mental health care, despite a policy from 1991 which sets out that they should.

It’s heartbreaking to know that many people with mental illnesses living in Nigeria are dehumanized and often times caged like animals. The picture down below was taken from Robin Hammond’s Book “Condemned: Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis.” This photo features a government run facility in Niger Delta town of Eket, Nigeria. This facility is meant to be a psychiatric hospital but in reality it is just a place of incarceration for people with mental disability.

Photo by Robin Hammond

Currently, there is no existing policy aiming towards structure for a working mental health system in Nigeria. Advocacy for mental illness is severely inadequate due to fear of stigmatization, with no formally recognized national of regional mental health association.

Photo by Robin Hammond

How do we change the current state of Mental Health awareness in Nigeria?

In the words of former Prime Minister, Professor Chinedu Nebo Enugu, “The belief that many Nigerians seem to hold that mental disorder is a result of supernatural forces and, therefore, only responds to cure through traditional practices and supernatural incantations, must give way and we must face the realities of modern conditions, which in fact, produce the stresses that lead to different level of mental conditions.”

It is true that it is important to take care of your body, eat well, exercise daily, and drink lots of water. But just as you aim to be healthy physically, you should aim to be healthy mentally; value yourself, quiet your mind, and learn how to effectively deal with stress.

Follow Mofe on Instagram @ok.mofe