Mental illnesses are not uncommon in Nigeria; the cases of suicides reported over time shows the degree of occurrence in our society. Nigeria, a society with many cultural beliefs have misconceptions and misbeliefs about mental illness. Stigmatization of people with mental illness is very common as the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental issues is very poor. The level of misconceptions regarding mental health has since flourished. Knowing the causes of mental illness is a step in good mental health.
Mental illness which is also known as Mental Health Disorder refers to a wide range of mental health conditions-disorders that affect our mood, thinking and behavior, mental health disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. All these are on the rise globally and by the year 2020, it is projected to reach 15%.
Depression is a killing mental illness in Nigeria. An estimated 20%-30% of the Nigerian population is believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million. Several bodies (Nigeria Medical Association) have been trying to create awareness to the public especially on depression. A lot has to be done. The impact of the stigmatizing attitude and poor knowledge of mental illness among Nigerians have shown to be a major challenge to improving mental health in Nigeria.
In a conversation with my boss sometimes ago, we deliberated on the issue of the state when trying to legalize cannabis for its medicinal purposes. While trying to make his point on the business aspect, I was looking at the repercussion of growing more weed than food crops. When I suggested there will be more insane people as a result of the intake of weed, he quickly jumped to oppose my opinion by saying ‘weeds don’t cause mental illness or insanity’ as I have thought. He explained that those who had a problem with weed must have had a mental health disorder such as depression before taking it. Their problems became worse when they try to use it to calm their nerves. He added, ‘some cases of mental illness are also spiritual’.
Some friends were asked to state the cause of mental illness; this is what they have to say:
The main causes of mental illness include depression, pressure, abuse of drugs and spiritual cause.Benjamin Juwa
Mental illness maybe as a result of family traits, drug abuse, medical issues, environmental factors such as rape and spiritual attack.Moses Odo
Mental illness has numerous causative factors some of which are drug abuse, head injury, loss of loved ones, genetics e.g. Schizophrenia (a hereditary mental illness) and our environment which has a big role to play in our mental health stability.Taiwo
I think mental illness could be caused by many factors which could be depression, spiritual, drugs and so on.Alunsi Ndu
Misconception on Mental Illness
There used to be a brother in my neighborhood back then who was addicted to drugs. He uses the little money he earned from menial jobs to buy Indian hemp and smoke. At first, he was always found causing troubles in his late father’s house where he also lived. He tormented his tenants till some packed out even before the expiration of their rent. His issue became worse when he became a terror to the society; even policemen refused to arrest him at this point. A family member had to take him away and resorted to a church for help. He was chained day and night all in the name of deliverance till he passed away.
This has been the issue with mental illness in Nigeria. Most people hold cultural and spiritual beliefs to many things that happen to them. Whenever a case of suicide is being reported, Nigerians are quick to jump to the conclusion that it has some spiritual matters behind it. Such is the case with the brother discussed earlier. We believe it’s spiritual, so we use the spiritual method to treat a mental health disorder which makes the condition critical most times. The fact that there is poverty in the land and few psychiatric hospitals, we, therefore, use spiritual means as it correlates with our belief.
Causes of Mental Illness
Having a good knowledge of mental illness and changing the perception of Nigerians to mental illness will result in a better and more improved mental health care within the country. Mental health problems might arise due to stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, grief, addiction, self-harm, various mood disorders, or other mental illness of varying degrees as well as learning disabilities.
Examples of Mental Illness
This is the most common cause of mental illness. It can be described as feelings of sadness, loss or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. It can be classified as a mood disorder. People experience depression in different ways. It may be in their working place, home, relationship with others and so on. It is quite normal to have sad moments but when it is a usual thing, it may have to do with depression. Many cases of suicide in Nigeria has been as a result of depression. Some have been hopeless, anxious, thinking too much, feeling sad, having difficulty sleeping, having a loss of interest in things and so on. Depression is a serious medical condition and can make other health issues worse without proper treatment.
There could be a mental disorder as a result of anxiety. People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excess and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. These people have trouble sleeping, have an increased heart rate, always feel nervous and restless, have a sense of impending danger and panic and so on. It is advisable to see a physician if there are symptoms such as these.
This is a mental illness known to be caused by a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and the environment. It is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disorder thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling. Early treatment is required in this case as it helps get symptoms under control before serious complications develop and may help improve the long-term effect.
This is a mental illness that is characterized by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape. This disorder may include inadequate or excessive food intake which can ultimately damage an individual’s well-being. These may be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental abnormalities which contributes to the development of these illnesses.
Some mental health disorders are a result of addiction to many things such as alcohol, tobacco/nicotine, drugs, gambling, coffee, food, video games, internet/social media, sex/pornography, and so on. Symptoms may see the person involved to struggle with mental health or physical health issues, the person has difficulties in keeping a significant relationship, the person experiences other negative consequences that are caused by chronic engagement in the behavior as well as having difficulty in engaging in these behaviors despite being aware of the negative consequences.
There is a high rate of mental illness in Nigeria and this has to be addressed. The attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is quite low. When compared with developed countries and some African countries like South Africa, the number of health care facilities and practitioners for the treatment of mental illness is not encouraging. More therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and physicians are needed to be trained to help manage mental illness with treatments such as therapy, counseling, or medication. Several policies on mental health also have to be implemented to curb mental illness in our nation.
Awareness alone won’t turn things around in this regard. We all have a role to play in having a safer society. Remember health is wealth; do yourself the good by having a medical checkup regularly and also check on others. Thanks for reading this piece. Do share your thoughts/views or opinions in the comment section.