Sunday, 19 November 2017 19:38

We Nigerians Needn't Remain Mentally Unhealthy When Help Is Available

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Among the mental health professionals, it is often said: "The mind is a terrible thing to waste." If I am sitting at  a public place dressed in rags and armed with a drum which I incessantly beat while singing out aloud, what do you think?. Your first thoughts would be: Here's a crazy man! There is a popular Nigerian (Igbo) song known as  " Akula! Obu Onye Ara" (Do not beat  he/she's  a crazy person) . Are the minds of Nigerians  being terribly wasted? Are we a crazy people?

We are not crazy in the sense of being silly, unwise, foolish, or stupid. Rather, we are irrational in our thinking and behavior; destructive in national life, and do not give a damn about whose ox is being gored. The idiom "whose ox is being gored means that Nigerians do not care for neighbors' feelings  so long as our selfish needs are indiscriminately satisfied even at the expense of public good or in  direct disregard for the nation's well-being

The purpose of this essay is to emphasize the point that we Nigerians do not enjoy good mental health. This is not meant for an insult. There is much truth in this. What do you think of the violence perpetrated by the common man, the kidnappings for ransom, the embezzlement of the entire budget by persons acting as fiduciary on behalf of Buhari and the suffering Nigerian populace?

The non-payment of teachers' wages, the rigging of elections, and frequent strikes by the university staff all tell us that all is not well with Nigerians. We may be suffering some forms of mental  illnesses.. There is a reason to lament the increasing number of Nigerians with psychiatric problems.

The Africa Today describes the number of mentally ill Nigerians as  being "frightening" (Africatoday80gmail.com, November 29, 2011). Figures coming from Nigeria indicate that in a particular geographic area of Nigeria, the mentally ill patients increased from 28,000 in 2009 to 42,000 in 2010. If the statistics accurately reflect the situation, then it is safe to say that Nigeria has enormous numbers of mentally ill persons, perhaps in the millions.

It is very, very  shameful that, Nigeria has only 130 psychiatrists, 4 neuropsychiatric nurses, and 8 neuropsychiatric hospitals that attend to 170 million people. There is a direct link between poverty and mental illness such that poor countries tend to have larger segments of the population saddled with psychiatric issues. Read more: http://thinkafricapress.com/health/mental-health-remains-invisible-problem-africa

The ratio of psychiatrists to patients in Nigeria stands at 1 per 1million (that is, 0.01 per 100,000) as against the following U S statistics: 31.1 per 100,000 (Massachusetts); 16.5 per 100,000 (USA); 12.3 per 100,000 (in Augusta, GA); 12.14 per 100,000 (State of Arizona); 9.3 per 100,000 (Atlanta, GA); and 4.6 per 100,000 (Idaho).

That means that Atlanta alone has close to 1,000 times as many psychiatrists as the entire nation of Nigeria. Even the small potato State of Idaho beats Nigeria 461 to 0 in the number of psychiatrists. This is a shame on my country. It is a shame, disgrace ,embarrassment, dishonor, humiliation, indignity, ignominy, infamy, rather than a thing of pride.

The purpose of this essay is to pronounce shame on the Nigerian medical professionals in the West. What a shame for Atlanta Nigerian communities for sitting dormant while our people are losing their minds. It is urgent that the Federal Government endeavor to lure surplus psychiatric professionals from the West. Of the 506 African psychiatrists in the United Kingdom, 214 (40%) are Nigerians.

It is reported that Lagos State government has placed the number of its mentally ill patients at 2 million or 14.1% of the population. There are no figures for Anambra, Imo, Abia, or Ebonyi but we would suspect that the number of psychiatric patients in the former Eastern Nigeria would far surpass, double, triple or even quadruple that of Lagos State. Why?

The reason is because the States in the former Eastern Nigerian were heavily desecrated by the killing of Ndigbo in the North; debased by sufferings Ndigbo endured when they ran home with bodies of dead relatives; and further despoiled by malnutrition and kwashiorkor occasioned by Chief Awolowo and Adekunle

Despite the horrors of Biafra, there is no evidence that Ndigbo children (now adults) have ever been treated for post-traumatic syndrome. These Nigerians are still suffering the devastating effects of the Civil War 50 years after the tragedy. SHALL WE SALUTE THE IGBOS FOR OVERCOMING THE HORRORS OF WAR WITH LITTLE OR NO ASSISTANCE FROM THEIR GOVERNMENT?

Experts blame the deterioration of mental health in Nigerian on "institution-based care practice" (involving hospitals, doctors, nurses and drugs), perhaps as opposed to "community-based care practice" (which involves health-care professionals, the patient, family, and entire community). Nigerians consider mental illness as a source of shame and embarrassment; Nigerians hide their mentally ill relatives in the villages when they should be seeking help for them. Nigerians living in Lagos, Abuja, Lagos, or Port Harcourt want to look and smell good by locking mentally ill relatives up in villages.

Therefore, ignorance of the causes and treatments of the disease of the mind helps to render the situation more hopeless. The mentally ill Nigerians are locked out of the public view.  Other possible causes of mental illness among Nigerians can be a number of the following:
(1)There are real stressful socioeconomic conditions in the country (akin to running from one part of the bush to another during the Biafran War in order to dodge bombings, and avoid being killed by Nigerian soldiers);

(2) Bad governance at all levels coupled with massive unprecedented corruption;

(3) Helplessness and hopelessness children and adults experience on a daily basis (leading to low levels of self-esteem and increased drug use);

(4) Violence connected with cult, boko haran, witchcraft, kidnapping, MEND, MASSOB;

(5) Abject poverty or pennilessness ( $1 a-day wage pushes adults to engage in 419 and youth to robberies and extortions);

(6) Anxiety created by constant insecurity and apprehension (leading to depression or neurotic behavior);

(7) Superstition is endemic in Africa: in the West, mental illness is believed to be genetically inherited or caused by some chemical imbalances in the body.

The African believes mental illness is caused by specific enemies or the ancestors, so you go after the enemy and kill him/her, and appease the ancestor through bloody sacrifices (one mentally ill Yoruba man was recently reported to have eaten the intestines of a woman on his witchdoctor's advice), ostensibly as a cure for his malady As we look around the Nigerian communities in Atlanta, Lagos, and Abuja we see people trying hard to cope with mental difficulties the best they could, at exorbitant costs.

Nigerians consume large quantities of alcoholic beverages everyday as self-medication for mental imbalances. These Nigerians are alcoholics who go to their jobs with hangovers each day and manage to perform their duties and hold families together because society expects them to do so;

Nigeria is the clearinghouse for various types of illicit drugs coming from Asia on their way to the United States and Europe, and the number of Nigerian young users is skyrocketing;

There are thousands of "shanty" bars everywhere in Nigeria and people frequent these at odd hours of day and night to drink their sorrows away; There are hundreds of brothels (ashawo houses) along roadways and private houses of prostitution in residential areas where people go to ease the pain of bewilderment: One goes to "ashawo" and complain about your problems and she tells you, "Oga, make you pay me your money and make your worry go."

Domestic violence is commonplace with men maiming or inflicting serious life-threatening injuries on wives (with fire, firearms, or machete) due to superstition, frustration.  Divorces and separations are frequent and unreported and often blamed on witchcraft and financial difficulties, as a man may kick one wife out and bring in another younger one in the attempt to resolve psychiatric issues. Neighbors encourage the habit by calling the wife-changer "Big Man"

Nigerians  spend countless hours plotting to amass wealth which they put to no good use other than to throw parties and "spray Naira", while constant pursuit of money gives one a false sense of mastery over personal failures in some areas;

Outdoor restaurants and beer parlors provide relief from worrying over personal and national problems: everyone aspires to the beer distributorship license.

Mental illnesses are treatable, and there are effective therapeutic interventions available, but the patient and family must seek help at the hands of modern professionals, not quackery.

Why must we hide diseases of the mind just as we once did with gonorrhea when we can openly treat these as easily as we treat malaria or headache? Ignorance is no longer bliss. Life is hard as it is, and every effort must be made to live it as comfortably as possible because "the mind is a terrible thing to waste".

COPYRIGHTED 11/29/2011. PLEASE DIRECT COMMENTS TO Dr. James  C. Agazie, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , jamesagazie.blogspot.com

 

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James Agazie Ed D

A retired college Professor  with educational backgrounds in law (JD) education (Ed.D, MA) counseling,( MS) and and mathematics.  Write on topics dealing with Nigerian families, marriages, education, and employment.