Nigerians’ mental health takes a hit

...As country's socio-economic, political woes worsen

Many Nigerians are currently sick and depressed over the prevailing socio-economic and political circumstances in the country.

Twenty-four-year-old John Abbas said he had never been so depressed, traumatised, and angry about being a Nigerian as he had been in the last couple of months. “This country is wearing me out. Sometimes, I just feel like screaming out really loud because I am not okay at all,” he cried. It was also his first time partaking in the country’s electoral process with high hopes for change.

This is same situation for many citizens who spoke to BusinessDay. Nigerians were made to endure harrowing experiences since the Central Bank of Nigeria redesigned the N1,000, N500 and N200 notes. This was aggravated by the fuel scarcity, the untold hardship fuelled by high cost of goods and political tension which is already taking a toll on the sanity of Nigerians.

As a consequence, mental health experts said psychiatrist cases, mental health problems will surge in the country. Already, no fewer than 60 million Nigerians are suffering from mental illness according to the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigerians (APN).

A mental health expert, Ameh Abba, founder of the Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative, and convener, Africa Mental Health Reforms Consortium (AMHEC), described the situation as alarming.

He said the stress, anxiety and uncertainty endured during the election process; the naira and fuel scarcity have aggravated the causative factors than can impact mental health.

“This is clearly seen in the level of anxiety and panic attack that people are exhibiting across the country both in rural and urban areas. There is no strata of the society that is left out. We are seeing Nigerians being directly impacted. It is alarming,” he said.

The expert urged Nigerians to pay very close attention to their mental well-being. He urged stakeholders and government to develop implementable measures to stop the problem from escalating.

Aisha Bubah, a Psychologist, also agreed that the recent harsh economic and political traumas have serious negative impact on the mental health of Nigerians with concerns that the numbers could go up.

Prior to the elections and other difficulties suffered during the period, Nigeria’s socio-economic and political conditions have deteriorated, plunging citizens into untold hardship. Available statistics show that the number of Nigerians living in poverty rose by 35 million in 2022.

Data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (2022) also reveals that 133 million Nigerians were multi-dimensionally poor, representing 63 percent of the country’s population.

Available statistics also show that the country’s inflation rate increased to 21 percent in 2022, compared with an average of 10.6 percent for emerging and developing economies and 8.8 percent for the world. The present unemployment rate in the country put at 33 percent.

Poverty and unemployment have been identified as major contributors to mental health imbalance in Nigeria.

Millions of Nigerians lament that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration failed to alleviate their plight. They had high expectations that 2023 elections would birth a leadership the that would salvage the country from the economic and political woes, but their hopes appears to have gone out the window due to the election process which several stakeholders and observers described as a flawed.

“I have given up on Nigeria”, Samuel Itodo, an Abuja-based accountant, cried. This government made us suffer so much with this naira redesign. I had so much hoped that the election may probably be the first free and fair process we would have. But I am so heartbroken to see that my sufferings was in vain.

“I know the long queues I endured at the bank, the hours I wasted finding petrol for my car. At a point I’ll even lost focus. So, who will compensate me for all that now? I don’t know if Nigeria can ever get it right again,” he said.

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also knocked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for failing to meet the expectations of Nigerians in the governorship and House of Assembly elections

“Throughout the mission we saw that Nigerians have a great appetite for democracy and are keen to engage in various civic activities. However, in many parts of the country, their expectations were not met.

“Many were disappointed and we witnessed voter apathy that is in part a clear consequence of failures by political elites and, unfortunately, also by INEC,” Chief Observer Barry Andrews said at a post-election briefing in Abuja.

Eleojoh Joy said she had been emotional for weeks.

“These days, I deliberately stay away from news channels because its all bad news, I need to protect my mental health. I have lost hope in this country. We lost it in this election in my own opinion,” she said.

She also lamented the high cost of living in the country. “The commodities are just going off the roof, even common commodities like garri, bread are now for the rich. Even accommodation expenses is going up. I usually pay N300,000 annually for the apartment were I stay, now my landlord has increased it to N500,000. I have to move out because I simply cannot afford it,” she cried.

Consumer Price Index CPI in Nigeria increased to 517.40 points in February from 508.70 points in January of 2023. The CPI measures changes in the prices paid by consumers for a basket of goods and services.

The increasing cost of food continues to affect the living standards of ordinary citizens, but the real income of the average income earner has been falling consistently. This implies that people can now afford fewer baskets of commodities for their livelihood and sustenance.

A media practitioner who based in Kaduna said he lost hope in Nigeria after the election. The journalist, who craved anonymity, said: “I have not recovered since after the announcement of the Presidential election result. It has dawned on me that Nigeria may never ever make any progress in the next 50 or more years. This is the reality of things as I see them now.”

According to him, “Although I am a news man, since the election, I have never switched on my television to listen to news. It hurts me the more when I see outright lies being dished out. I have since exited some WhatsApp groups to avoid some of the abusive things being pushed into such places and being sponsored by people. I really want a breath of fresh air. Everywhere is toxic.”

A school teacher who gave her name as Janet said that she believed Nigeria may not be the same again.

“The 2023 general election may have destroyed Nigeria. A situation where even those claiming victory are not celebrating, you can see that all is not well. Even pupils in school know that all is not well with Nigeria. The question they are asking is the manner of leadership such politicians will make. A situation where even children knew how the got to the office, there is no integrity and there is no legitimacy. Right-thinking members of society are perplexed about what is going on,” Janet said.

Read also: Experts to review mental health bill at maiden Confab

Since the election, there have been cases of those who have taken their own lives over the political situation in the country.

“It is sad that we are where we are now despite all our efforts. Nigerians suffered many things to go register to have their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs). To collect the PVCs was another wahala. Now, despite all that stress, some people ensured that such efforts would be in vain. We are watching. I think, the 2023 election may be the last general election for now, because, as it is now, many Nigerians are no longer interested in anything call election. People are saying, let them go ahead and rule Nigeria indefinitely,” Thompson Ngei, a concerned Nigerian, said.

‘Only 200 mental health experts for 200 million Nigerians’

Amid these challenges, Nigeria is grappling with a huge dearth of qualified, practising mental health experts

According to Ameh Abba, the founder, Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative, ” We have only about 200 mental health experts to service 200 million Nigerians, it is a serious concern, and we must confront it.

This implies that mentally ill Nigerians do not have readily available mental health professionals to talk to, and may give in to suicide it resort to drug abuse.

Abba also lamented the few practitioners are leaving the country in the brain drain wave. There is also a dearth of data, and research, he added.

In addition to the dearth of personnel, Nigeria has only nine federally owned psychiatric hospitals, with six of them located in the six geo-political zones.

Despite these gaps mental health issues is still not given the priority it deserves. Stakeholders are however optimistic that the newly signed Mental Health Act (2021). They said it is important for citizens to be fully sensitised on the contents of the Act.

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