50m Nigerians May Suffer Mental Illness, Trauma

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Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

About 25 percent of Nigerian population, (about 50 million people), may suffer from mental illness in a lifetime if nothing is done to restore public order nationwide, a consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Ibrahim Mshelia, has said.

Mshelia, a consultant psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, ascribed this projection to the growing rate of armed insurgencies, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and extremist violence nationwide.

He expressed this concern at a session with THISDAY at the weekend, noting that the rising cases of mental illness across the federation was unprecedented, thereby demanding proactive measures.

There has been increased violence nationwide with extremist violence in the North-east; banditry and kidnapping in the North-west; farmers-herdsmen conflict in the North-central; communal invasion in the Southwest; youth restiveness in the South-south and secessionist campaign in the Southeast.
Consequently, millions of citizens have fled troubled regions to other parts of the country while thousands have sought refuge in foreign land.
Edwin Osara, who fled to Kaduna to save his sick daughter, Deborah from female circumcision promoted by his extended family, was one of such pathetic cases.

After escaping violence in the South, Osara came under the attack of Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist organisation and was left in his pool of blood.
Osara, who was hospitalised for three months before recovering from gun injuries and trauma, eventually fled with his traumatised family to the United States.

Osara is not the only victim that fled from violence in the north. Since 2009, thousands have fled the north including a journalist with Daily Trust, Ibrahim Yahaya.

Yahaya requested his employer to redeploy him to Lagos after his family was left traumatised after the attacks of the Boko Haram insurgents on Maiduguri
Osara and Yahaya are among the lucky ones. Thousands have lost loved ones; many suffered varying degrees of injury and others lost their sanity to banditry, extremist violence and kidnapping that plague the North.

On these accounts, Ibrahim said cases like that of Osara family are prevalent in the country especially in the North-west and North-east, especially Kaduna and Maiduguri, among others.
The consultant said a 2014 study in North-western part of Nigeria showed a prevalence of psych trauma between 33.6 per cent and 62.5 per cent among the participants, lamenting that with the increase of traumatic experience, the statistics would expect to be higher.

He said, “Sincerely there are no figures as to the number of traumatised person, but it is significant and due to increasing stressful life events, poverty and breakdown of family structures, mental illnesses are on the rise.

“Mental health awareness, advocacy and training of personnel have helped in mitigation of this but approximately one out of every four Nigerian (that is about 50 million) will suffer mental illness during his or her life time.

He revealed that at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Maiduguri, there has been increased cases of mental illness as a result of Boko Haram violence.

He disclosed that the hospital “has engaged in partnership with NGOs in alleviating the suffering of those persons having one form of mental illness or the other.

“The hospital also engages in community outreaches and provision of free mental health services to individuals in the IDP camps,” the consultant explained.

He, however, suggested that the best way “to handle mental illness (pre, during and post) is early awareness, identification and prompt seeking of professional healthcare services.”

He, therefore, urged the federal, state and local governments “to ensure mental services is made accessible, affordable and available to the populace.”