I had a discussion with someone a few months ago about a man who was reported to commit suicide. I remember talking about how the man was probably depressed and how this may have led to his suicide. And I remember clearly that my friend laughed and said “But, Nigerians do not get depressed”. This is a typical opinion among many of us. We do not believe in mental illnesses. And if we do not believe it exists, how do we even begin to understand it?
Nigeria is in denial about mental illness.
It is never schizophrenia, it is possession by the devil. And so we isolate them and pray and pray. We deprive them of love and care and understanding. And sometimes food and basic personal hygiene. And when prayer fails, we abandon them and leave them to wander about in the streets, barefoot, in tattered clothes, vulnerable to hunger and abuse and diseases.
It is never depression, it is prolonged sadness or weakness or laziness. And we wonder why that person cannot get over whatever is wrong and get on with life. “We are Nigerians after all. We are supposed to be tenacious and resilient and religious. What the hell is this depression nonsense?”
It is never suicidal thoughts. It is selfishness and a joke. And we laugh about it. It becomes material for comedians. We tell them to go ahead and kill themselves. I mean “if they really wanted to die, why didn’t they just go and kill themselves already, why announce it to the whole world? It’s because they are seeking for attention”.
It is never panic attacks or anxiety disorders. It is being a drama queen. “What? Eating disorder? Hahaha. It is because she has enough food. That is why she is wasting it”. It is never post-traumatic stress disorder. It is just an exaggeration of a minor traumatic experience. “I mean, Hassana went through a worse experience and she got over it. So what’s the big deal?”
No, it is never a mental illness. Because Nigerians do not get depressed.
Well, we need to stop. We need to stop denying that there is a problem. One in Six Africans are suffering from a form of mental illness. And this statistic is just a tip of the iceberg. We need to learn not to blame or mock. We need to learn not to be so quick to brush it aside or discriminate. We need to learn to stop feeding the stigma. We need to learn to accept and show support and love. So that we do not make those suffering from a mental illness retreat into themselves and refuse to seek help or remain in denial.
Mental illness is not a joke or a myth. It is not someone’s fault or under someone’s control. And it can be treated or managed. Let’s stop living in denial. Let’s start recognizing the truth. Because our mental health matters. We all matter.
Happy World mental health day, everyone.
PS: Just in case you need help or you know someone who does, refer to the phone number in the image posted below. Its courtesy Playback Nigeria.