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Published On: Mon, May 8th, 2017

Economic siege: Mental illness on the rise among Nigerians

 

  • Worsening economic conditions push more people to the brink

 

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
More Nigerians are daily succumbing to the scourge of mental disorder, an investigation by Business Hallmark has revealed. The report revealed alarming increases in cases of documented suicides, depression, alcohol dependency and violent crimes, among other mentally related infirmities. Mental disorder, also called mental illness, psychological disorder, or psychiatric disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is mental or behavioural pattern that causes either suffering or poor ability to function in ordinary life.

 

APA said that causes of mental disorder are often unclear but common causes include drug abuse, depression, dementia, as well as stigma and discrimination. While the increase is reported cases in the country are alarming, findings further show that the scourge is largely understated as most Nigerians shun health institutions when they or their relatives show signs of mental illness. They rather approach trado-medical and religious centres to seek deliverance in order to avoid the stigma associated with visiting psychiatric hospitals, BH learnt.

 

The descent into depression by many Nigerians, hitherto ranked among the happiest people on earth, has come as a shock to many. In 2003, the World Values Survey ranked Nigerians among the happiest people in the world in a report. In March 2017, a report released by the United Nations (UN) ranked Nigerians the sixth happiest people in Africa and 95th in the world. This was in spite of the glaring challenges confronting them.

 

However, these assertions are now being put to test by rising cases of suicide in the country. In the last six months, several cases of suicide related deaths have been recorded. On Sunday, March 19, 2017, a 35-year-old medical doctor, Allwell Orji, jumped into the Lagos Lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge and died. On the 18th of March, a 500-level Urban and Regional Planning undergraduate of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomosho, Adesoji Adediran, hanged himself inside his hostel room.

On March 24, 2017, the police in Lagos rescued a woman, Taiwo Titilayo Momoh, who attempted to jump into the lagoon at the Third Mainland bridge.

 

Momoh was in a taxi heading towards Oworonshoki on Third Mainland Bridge when she told the taxi driver to stop on the bridge. She confessed that her problem started sometimes in 2015, when a Bureau De Change dealer carted away her N18.7 million she wanted to change to pay her foreign creditors. She has been charged to court. Fishermen on the same day rescued another, Mrs. Abigail Ogunyinka, while attempting to jump from the Ebute-Ero end of the Lagos lagoon. Ogunyinka, a food vendor, was said to have jumped already but was rescued by nearby fishermen.

 

In January this year, a 19-year-old student of Babcock University in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Verishima Unokyur, committed suicide in his parents’ home in Mafoluku area of Oshodi, Lagos. On March 3rd, a 100 level female Law student of the University of Ibadan died after jumping from the first floor of the Queens Hall after displaying signs of restlessness.

 

In August last year, a manager with a commercial bank, Olisa Nwokobi, shot himself in Lagos. It was revealed that the 44-year-old bank manager and graduate of Abia State University, Uturu, killed himself because he was under pressure from his bank over loan repayment. Several other unreported and undocumented deaths through suicide have taken place. BH findings show that the scourge is largely induced by the current economic recession in the country.

 

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its monthly reports, many Nigerians have lost their jobs, while more companies are still downsizing to reduce production cost.

It also confirmed that prices of commodities have doubled or tripled in some instances as the purchasing power of citizens continues to diminish with many unable to meet financial obligations.

 

This development, according to medical experts has contributed immensely to the rise in mental disorders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report “The World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems 2016” (WHOAIMS2016) obtained by BH, confirmed that economic crisis produce secondary mental health effects that may increase suicide and alcohol death rates.

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According to the report, “Mental health is not merely the absence of mental symptoms or disorders, but also a resource supporting overall well-being and productivity”.

While Nigeria does not have a standardized data on mental illness, the average number of people living with psychiatric disorders is 42 million, according to the figures made available to BH by several mental health experts.

 

According to the Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital (FNH),Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Rahman Lawal, 21 million Nigerians are currently living with psychiatric disorders. Lawal said that about 12.5 per cent of Nigerians have one form of psychiatric disorder or another, which is about 21.2 million Nigerians.

 

“With the population of persons in Nigeria who needs psychiatric attention, it is worrisome that we have only few neuropsychiatric hospitals and trained psychiatrists in the country making it difficult to meet the medical needs of the people.

“This is why we need more hands; more psychiatrists, more health workers and more health facilities, so that we will be able to cope with treatment and management of psychiatric issues in Nigeria.

“There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding psychiatric illness in Nigeria. There are people who refuse to visit the hospital or bring their sick ones for treatment, because they believe psychiatric illness is a spiritual issue. Hence, they would prefer to take such patients to spiritual healing homes or faith organisations in order to get cure through spiritual means. Majority only take neuropsychiatric hospitals as their last resort. And you know when cases are not presented on time, they are often more difficult to treat. Some even resulted in suicide cases”, he said.

 

But the figure released by the Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Dr Babatunde Ipaye, is more alarming. According to Ipaye, more than 60 million Nigerians have various degrees of mental disorder. He further revealed that 80 percent of people move from one place to another with one mental disorder without knowing or seeking help.

He listed marital pressure, educational and economic pressure, expectations and disappointments as issues that could trigger minor mood disorder and finally leads to extreme mental illness.

“Between 20 and 25 percent live with a full blown mental disorder in Nigeria. That means one out of every five Nigerian has an extreme mental disorder. Mental challenges go from simple minor mood disorder to extreme cases of mental accreditation”, Ipaye said.

He urged Nigerians to establish community mental homes to managed mental disorder at the grassroots level while the federal government would prioritise primary healthcare intervention for minor mood disorder.

 

Consultant Psychiatrist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Raphael E. Ogbolu, said that committing suicide starts from having the thoughts or ideas about killing oneself, followed by coming up with a plan on how to do it and then finally attempting it.

The psychiatrist, who is also the Coordinator of the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative and Staff Emotional Care Services (SURPIN/SECS), disclosed that in Nigeria, 0.37 per cent and 12 per cent of adult military populations and adolescent populations, respectively, have attempted to kill themselves.

 

“It has also been reported that during their lifetime, about 3.0 per cent of Nigerians would have thoughts of ending their lives, 1.0 per cent would plan on how to kill themselves and just under 1.0 per cent end up attempting to kill themselves. These facts should make it clear to us that suicide occurs in our society,” Ogbolu added.

 

A medical consultant at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr Olumuyiwa Odunsote, blamed the surge in suicide cases on social background.

“In Africa, and especially in Nigeria, mental illness is when the person has gone out of control, which is what is seen as madness.

“But, internationally, somebody who is still under control can be diagnosed with some level of mental disorder. This is true because a lot of people are depressed, a lot of people undergo severe stress and are highly frustrated in the country. Yet, unless you are a trained eye, you won’t see it until it is too late”, he said.

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A psychiatrist with University of Ibadan, Professor Oye Guruje, advised that government should give priority attention to the management of mental disorder because its burden outweighed that of HIV.

“Mental illness is one of the major contributors to disease burden globally; it is the sixth largest burden worldwide and this is much more burdensome than HIV.

“In Nigeria, one out of seven persons will have serious mental illnesses, while one in four persons will have some form of mental disorder; and this is a conservative estimate,” he said.

Guruje said that mental illnesses could be treated with the right care, noting, “Every mental disorder has some form of treatment; but whether the person will fully recover depends on the type of illness.

“For example, dementia has no effective treatment yet, while there are effective treatments for depression, including non-medication like psychological treatment.”

He added that while there were no specific causes of some mental illnesses, some might be hereditary, while some could be due to stress or lifestyle.

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) however blamed the surge in deaths by suicide on the neglect often suffered by those suffering mental illness.

NMA’s President, Mike Ogirima, while disclosing that 4.2 percent of the Nigerian population suffer depression, lamented that the country has no mental health policy to address challenges faced by mentally depressed Nigerians.

“The medical professionals are worried that Nigeria does not have a workable mental policy. A national strategy to address mental health problems in Nigeria by government’s at all levels is needed, with emphasis on prevention”, he said, adding that recent incident in ‎Lagos must draw people’s attention to the fact that there are many other, who commit suicide and die unnoticed.

“The NMA, as part of its corporate responsibility to the mental health community and the society at large, the Nigerian Medical Association will work closely with the National Assembly to pass a comprehensive bill on Medical Health in Nigeria,” he said.

 

In his own contribution, the Head of Department of Psychology, Lagos State University, Ojo, Dr.  Kayode Taiwo, painted a gloomier picture, warning that Nigerians should expect more deaths from suicide.

“The present political and economic situation in the country is affecting the psychological resilience of people. The societal expectations, personal expectations are important landmark in the ways individuals see themselves. When they are unable to meet this standard, they become what we referred as unfulfilled expectations, which affect their emotions, their cognition, that is, the way they think. These also affect their self-worth; self esteem. And when these things are significantly affected, they lead to depression and depression can lead to suicide.

“These are very good indicators to government that, governance is not being felt by the ordinary man. Suicide will definitely be on the increase, since the economic policy of the government is not something that would bring the desired result soonest, except of course, if government does something extraordinarily and very drastically”, he argued.

On why people commit suicide, which is anathema to the African society, the university don said, “it is not as if suicide is strange to the African society, the population has multiplied, and worldwide there is economic downturn, which is affecting every nation. Unfortunately, in Nigeria we don’t have a social net. In those days, people used to look for one another, the family ties were very strong; communal bond was strong.

“All these are psychological issues, but they have broken down significantly. Meanwhile, the government of today would tell you that it is because of past government. The truth of the matter is that the economic situation is affecting the national psyche; it is not lifting people up psychologically.”

 

 

 

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