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Culturally prescribed beliefs about mental illness in Nigeria

Tolu and Peter met each other during their first year in the university of Lagos, fell head over heels in love with each other and became inseparable since then. Years later, they started the marriage discussion with their families. Both families met and did the usual introductory ceremony. Everything seemed fine. However, the latter’s family...

Culturally prescribed beliefs about mental health in Nigeria

Tolu and Peter met each other during their first year in the university of Lagos, fell head over heels in love with each other and became inseparable since then. Years later, they started the marriage discussion with their families. Both families met and did the usual introductory ceremony. Everything seemed fine. However, the latter’s family decided to conduct a family background check on the former. Now comes the bombshell, eons back, someone in Tolu’s family was heard of being mentally ill, note the word – heard. It was not confirmed, no one could even remember the name of the man in question.

Peter’s family would have none of that, in spite ticking off of some ‘important’ factors like tribe, religion, social status; the aisle-bound relationship had to be severed. The lovebirds threw fits and threatened but the parents stood their ground and that was the last we heard of them.

Nigeria is a multicultural and diverse country, with over 300 tribes and more than 500 languages spoken, though tribe and tongue may differ, we have one thing in common; we are all bonded by parochial, primordial beliefs and sentiments, most especially when it comes to issues of mental health. We burden ourselves with assumptions that does not only makes civilization looks like a joke but also questions our literacy.

Like I averred earlier, our society holds the belief that mental illness could be hereditary, our beliefs in voodoo, wizardry, dark forces aptly exposes us as suffering from dearth of awareness as far as mental health is concerned.

These disgraceful lows wrapped in fancy words like misconception, has contoured our beliefs, warped our sense of reasoning, in return having a huge and telling causal effects on our societal attitudes; how are the mentally ill people perceived and received in the society? They are being treated like anathema, a pariah; kept at arm’s length, confined to isolation, and in some cases, whipped, lacerated and charred. Some are even manacled, a quick reference to the BBC footage on the attending consequences of drug and substance abuse that trended a while ago.

As a result of this, we have turned our gaze to traditional alternatives, finding succor in them, since we are clouded with the belief that, mental illness can only be attributed to the metaphysical. This alternative treatment was subjectively deemed favaourable, as testimonials from health facilities have not been encouraging due to chronically subpar mental healthcare facilities and its less than desirable outcomes.

Our society is yet to be alive to the fact that a dip in mental health could emanate from childhood memories, it can also stem from psychological, physical or sexual abuse. In addition, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), even unhealthy diet could pose alarming threats to our mental health. Not all mental issues sprouted from drug abuses, or spiritual undertones and heavenly comeuppance – though we can’t completely disapprove some traditional leanings, yet, we can’t say whether they are right or incorrect.

Our society needs to go through serious orientation on mental health, we must be weaned from the notion that everyone who looks ‘good’ is actually mentally healthy. Not until someone can no longer be reached with their clothes in public spaces can they be certified mentally ill, our sights are blinded to illness like schizophrenia, psychosis, and the rest. In fact, we need to learn serious facts and unlearn some myths about mental health.

We should be wary and watch out for early signs like suicidal thoughts, social isolation, aggression, inflicting bodily harm on self, untamed mood swings, hallucinations, inappropriate emotional response, etc. someone going through any of these could be a ‘ticking bomb’, waiting to detonate any time soon.

However, as a developing nation, these misgivings about mental health could be salvaged through making concerted efforts in rising to the needs for mental health facilities in the country, I think this sacrosanct part of healthcare has been treated with kid gloves for long and must be given the needed and serious attention. More health personnel should be engaged, while mental healthcare facilities should be increased across the country.

In another development, our societies have to be sensitized and intimated on mental health, affected persons should never be stripped off their basic human rights, should they become a threat to the sanctity of others, there are ways to go about it within the confines of medicine, ensuring their being is not demeaned.  Being mentally ill doesn’t justify their restraints or seclusion, or being treated with no dignity, unfortunately, healthcare facilities are also guilty of this. Our societies’ need for sound mental health literacy can never be overstressed.

Our government’s input(s) in affecting the society’s mental health perception and the wellbeing of affected persons positively will also be of tremendous benefit. As practicable health approaches are needed to be made to drive the necessary impact, not only in establishing strong institutions but also shaping thoughts, and attitudes of Nigerians as far as mental health is concerned. Our media outfits should engage in sound publicity by churning out informed and opinionated articles, jingles and skits in support of this.

Looking after persons living with mental illness can be enervating,  coupled with the fact that caregivers are in short supply, however, there are treatment, and services must be made available to assist in caring for affected persons, while rehabilitation should also be accessible for convalescence.

People are going through mental challenges and they owe no one the need of talking about it, so, it’s of essence that we treat others kindly. It is high time we suit up and take on the fight on mental illness in our societies and Nigeria at large. We must do this together!

– Shemilore Jegede

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2 Comments
  1. We are definitely making progress with regards to increasing awareness on importance of mental health.

  2. Great insight delivered in such captivating words.

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