I never knew i’d make a post about mental health disorder in Nigeria until i woke up one morning to the news of a final year first class undergraduate of UNN, chukwuemeka Akachi who had taken his own life.
Akachi was one of those people who battled with mental health disorder in Nigeria. He found solace in consuming liters of petrol and kerosene. I went on Facebook, searched his name and reread the suicide note he had casually dropped on his wall.
Scrolling down his timeline to 2018, I realized that he had been living and struggling with his mental health for a very long time and death to him was an absolute relief.
This is my first guest interview on this blog and I’m more than glad that someone as distinguished and learned as Mr Daniel Etaze was there to enlighten and answer my questions on mental health disorder in Nigeria. Mr Etaze is a political scientist, writer and a person who’s keenly studying human psychological behavior…….:
- Mr Etaze, why do you think a scholar like Akachi would want to end his own life?
Mr Etaze : It’s very difficult to think of any reason a bright soul like Akachi would want to end his life but you see, our mind is a battle field and a weapon that must be loaded at all times in order to conquer every attack of life and like I always say, hope is the fuel that keeps the vehicle of life moving but when society and life circumstances overpowers us and takes that hope away, such vehicle will have no choice but to stop moving.
2. How do you define mental health disorder?
Mr Etaze: Mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode.
3. Why is the issue of mental health disorder in Nigeria more pervasive now than it was in the 80s and 90s?. Some people say it’s end time sign.
Mr Etaze: I think there are lots of reasons why mental health disorder in Nigeria is more pervasive now than it was in the 80s, but one major reason is that the world has become a global village in the sense that everything and everyone is interconnected in one form or the other. information is easily accessible and this means that things and people can be easily influenced and the dissemination of information is as fast as the speed of light compared to the 80s
4.What have you identified as the causes of mental health disorder because for sure, no one was born with depression or sadness so how did we get to be filled with such dark emotions?
Mr Etaze: There are various factors that can cause mental disorder although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known. it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Biological Factors that may cause Mental Illness are:
Abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions.
Psychological factors that may contribute to mental illness include:
Severe psychological trauma suffered as a child, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
An important early loss, such as the loss of a parent.
Poor ability to relate to others.
Certain stressors can trigger an illness in a person who is susceptible to mental illness. These include:
Death or divorce.
A dysfunctional family life.
Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or loneliness.
Lack of fulfillment and when expectations are not met.
Social or cultural expectations (For example, a society that associates beauty with thinness can be a factor in the development of eating disorders.)
Substance abuse by the person or the person’s parents.
5. Why are people with mental health disorder in Nigeria not taken seriously? Why are they stigmatized, ignored, mocked or labeled attention seekers, witches or possessed. Akachi was very open about his mental health. He asked for help! I saw a post of him saying “it’s official. I need a therapist inbox please”.
I also read about a man who opened up about his depression to his Nigerian father, and all the old man gave as a supposed piece of advice was “depressed? At your age you are talking of depression. Oya be depressed na”. Why don’t we take such issues serious in Nigeria ?
Mr Etaze: People with mental health disorder in Nigeria are not taken seriously because we live in a very sad time and it is even worse especially for a country like this where human life has been reduced to nothing. When you look at the country today, you’ll discover that the population is mind boggling compared to the scarce resources and no thanks to the self centered and wasteful leaders in government.
A state where leaders do not care about the citizens will leave people with no other choice but to do whatever they can; be it legal or illegal to help themselves. Suicide has become the order of the day and people have sadly taken it as a norm due to lack of security and value for human life. Everyone is busy, people are struggling to survive that nobody wants to listen to anybody except they have something to benefit from the other party.
And when these kind of scenarios start to play out, it causes people not to care about each other. there is no love. people start seeing life as a competition and some sort of survival of the fittest.
Some people have become lost in this sad trajectory that they become emotionally unaware and indifferent about the well being of their neighbor.
Most parents especially in this part of the world don’t take their children serious when it comes to issues like depression after all they have provided him or her with the basic needs of life and they think they have carried out their responsibility as parents so they expect such child to be in perfect condition.
They can’t just understand it when a child tells them they are depressed. Some parent take it as a joke or he or she is not serious with life. But the sad truth is that parenting in this time and age is beyond just providing for a child’s basic needs.
6. I have been sad, gone through what I thought was depression and have felt alone sometime in my life but I never thought it as mental health disorder or maybe because I didn’t know such terms existed but what are the signs that someone is having this disorder. I don’t want to believe that every time a person is sad, extremely angry or feels lonely, it means that they have a disorder if so, that would make all of us.
Mr Etaze: The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms.
These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, behavior or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide, anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness, early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep, excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness, agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation
Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide
Weight: weight gain or weight loss, poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts
7. When I see suicide posts, I somehow feel that it is demonic. Whatever is making them kill them self is a dark spirit that creeps in and makes them lose control. I feel the issue of suicide and mental disorder is more spiritual than psychological.
Mr Etaze: The spiritual controls the physical either for good or for evil. But then again it all boils down to our individual belief.
8. In 2015 thereabouts, there was news making rounds on social media about an alleged yahoo boy who jumped off his Range Rover, tore his clothes and was roaming seemingly mad.
Later in 2017, Some psychologists and doctors have confirmed that the young man, Olamide, is suffering from a mental disorder known as “schizophrenia”.
From that one single incident, it is easy to conclude that mental health disorder is the same thing as madness. Is it true or are they brothers from different mothers?
Mr Etaze: Madness is not a scholarly defined mental disorder, but it is mainly used by laymen or even a derogatory word for defining those people who seem to have lost contact with reality etc.
But, if we try to link the word madness with mental health disorder, we would link it with “psychotic” disorders like schizophrenia. A professor, when mentioning the history of schizophrenia, stated that the word “mad” is mainly used for people who had schizophrenia throughout history.
9. What impact does social media have on people who are going through mental health disorder in Nigeria. Do you think social media is detrimental to mental health?
Mr Etaze: Social media has become a very strong tool in our lives as humans depending on the usage though. A lot of patients with mental health disorder have been helped through social media. Recently a young boy who took sniper because he did not make his jamb test was saved all because people got to know on social media. Most of these foundations in charge of mental health can also be easily reached through social media because of their online presence. I don’t think social media is detrimental to mental health because without social media most of these cases won’t be held and attended to.
10. From Akachi’s post, I don’t think social media did him any good. He said some people on social media had pushed him to the wall. He also said he belonged to a group of people commit suicide daily. He connected with these people via social media.
All the posts he read online about people who had committed suicide must have triggered him to do his. Also In terms of social media, I have realized that social media is one major cause of depression in youths because of what they see there.
Mr Etaze: That is why I always advise people not to get carried away by things they see on social media to the point that they get depressed about it. I also encourage people to take time off social media once in a while. It’s good to keep our sanity in check.
Also, be careful and selective of groups and communities you choose to join on social media. Know what that group represents and what their contents are about.
11. People say suicide is not the solution probably because there are better solutions. Someone on twitter suggested the government restrict access to sniper. Is that the best approach?
Mr Etaze: Restricting sniper won’t stop people from committing suicide because there are other ways people can commit suicide.
I would say as individuals, we should start paying more attention to our environment and the people around us. We should check up on our friends and family regularly, we should try to help people wherever and whenever we can.
And as for parents, I can’t stress enough the importance of paying utmost attention to the psychological and emotional needs of their children.
Parents should not love a particular child more than the other, parents should demonstrate equal love and care to their children. Lastly, don’t leave your child’s well being solely in the hands of house help and care givers.
Society especially in this side of the divide should see mental health disorder for what it is and not stigmatize those suffering from it.
Society must lend a listening ear and helping hand to people suffering from it and try as much as possible to proffer solutions.
As for anyone suffering from mental health disorder, he or she should know that they are not alone. They should speak out because there are people and organizations out there waiting to support and help them.
12. From Akachi’s poetry that I read, he had a lot he had bottled up in his heart. I don’t know if it would be reckless to say his mom and sister didn’t particularly appreciate him.
He had written that his sister urinated inside his bathing water when he was little and his mother made him bath with it. He never was able to forgive her until he was 20. I feel parents are the major human factor to blame for a person mental health disorder. What do you have to say about it?
Mr Etaze: Like I earlier stated that parenting especially in this information age is beyond just providing food, shelter, education and toys for a child. Parents must make concerted and conscious effort in paying special attention to the emotional and psychological state of their children. Parents must try as much as possible to be physically, psychologically and emotionally available for their family as far as holistic parenting is concerned. Family should come first.
13. Can you recommend any foundations with proven track record of handling patients with mental health disorder in Nigeria?
Mr Etaze: I will recommend;
Mental Health Foundation
16, Harvey Rd, Yaba Lagos
Mental health service in Lagos, Nigeria
30B2, Remi Fani-Kayode Street, GRA, Ikeja
0902 544 6486
CALL: +234 803 323 1928
Lagos Centre – Ikeja
14. In three words, Advice someone who is reading this and going through some mental health challenges.
Mr Etaze: Life is precious.
Before Akachi’s demise, he wrote a story titled 16 notes on how to end a life. The piece was submitted for the chronicle short fiction prize 2018. He got shortlisted. Click here to read.
Didn’t the judges ever think that whoever wrote such eerie story needed help?
Rounding up, I’d like to ask, have you ever been depressed to the point of thinking about taking your own life? Do you know anyone who has? Do you think it’s spiritual like I think? Pls share with us in the comment section. Mr Etaze and I are here to reply❤️