Posted by By Bolatito Adebayo on
On a visit to a hospital in Lagos recently, this reporter was somewhat surprised by the unnecessary attention from patients. One of them, a middle-aged man with a bandage on his head, stood directly behind the reporter like a sentry on duty.
On a visit to a hospital in Lagos recently, this reporter was somewhat surprised by the unnecessary attention from patients. One of them, a middle-aged man with a bandage on his head, stood directly behind the reporter like a sentry on duty. Unnerved by his intimidating presence, the journalist (a woman) asked if there was any problem only for the patient to request to use the reporter’s phone. He did that twice after saying good morning.
Not long after, a young man in his late twenties looking frail and gaunt came into the room and wasn’t sure what to do. He seemed lost in his own world and would mutter to himself intermittently. And yet a third approached saying: "Madam Can I use your phone?’
"Sorry I’ve no credit on it?"
He walked back to his seat and he kept on staring into space, after a while he came back and asked. "Madam are you sure you don’t have credit on your phone?"
Unable to bear the harassment any longer, the reporter stood up almost in a hurry. It dawned on her that all the while she had been speaking with mentally ill patients and they were not visitors after all.
Welcome to the world of the mentally ill.
In Nigeria, there are many health problems but those with mental cases are usually not mentioned. Instead, they are wished away. On the contrary there are several mental health problems around and there are several people affected by them. Some of these people function well and are not aware they are ill. These disorders range from small disorders to full-scale disorders.
Dr. Olatunji Aina, the Head of Department, Clinical Psychology, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, sheds more light on the mental health of the average Nigerian.
"A person is considered mentally ill if his behavior is different from all other people in the society or culture. Also, a person is considered to have mental disorder if his behavior is not a matter of choice but innate and irresistible, if his behavior causes others discomfort and his physical reality is impaired."
Types of mental illness
There are different types of mental illness such as mood and anxiety, organic brain disorder, psychotic disorders and many others. The most common ones are neurotic disorders such as anxiety, phobias, substance abuse, paranoia, internal heat, sensations and strange movements in the body without any organic reasons. Psychiatrists also handle cases of epilepsy because there are some cases of epilepsy that are pure behavioral manifestation.
Dr. Aina faults the beliefs of most Nigerians towards mental disorders. He says: "In this part of the world people see psychiatric cases as spiritual attacks. Some believe they are chased by demons, or witches and wizards are responsible for their state of mental health. So when a patient is mentally ill instead of seeking for medical help they go to spiritualists; medical care is usually seen as the last resort. In most cases the situation would have become deplorable. Moreover, millions of Nigerians believe that a typical mentally ill person must be in rags and must eat from the dustbin. But that’s not true. Actually, that is only a minor representation of the percentage. There are people out there who work in offices and are highly placed that have one mental illness or another. Some are not even aware of their mental condition because it’s at the mild stage".
Men who patronize prostitutes
According to him, prostitution is a societal problem and it is as old as human race. It is an act that is not sanctioned by the society so it is done in secrecy. According to research, there are reasons people do it. Some believe that they would have variety of s-xual acts from prostitutes while some say they do it because they are shy to make advances to other women. While some believe that prostitutes are better and more experienced in bed than their wives at home. Others believe that they have more room to experiment. But these might be a mental problem when an individual can’t resist the urge and it becomes habitual. Though there are some psychiatric behaviors that have manifestation of s-xual perversion, patronizing prostitutes might not be the only one. There are cases of pedophiles, that is having s-xual preferences for children, which is criminal. Voyeurism, which can be described as deriving s-xual pleasures from peeping at naked women or women’s under wears, having intercourse with animals or objects and many others.
"Poverty is number one cause of psychiatric problems. In a society where we can see extreme display of wealth and extreme poverty, there is bound to be insecurity in human behaviour. Because of the large scale of the poverty, there are many people with illness they cannot take care of and so it results to mental illness. For instance, many people see malaria as a very simple sickness but it is very complex. There are manifestations of mental disorder in malaria. If malaria is not properly treated it could result into a serious mental problem."
Availability of psychiatrists
"It’s true that the numbers of psychiatric doctors available are few compared to the population we have in the country. The number is grossly inadequate. Another factor responsible for these is the brain drain. Most of these doctors travel abroad to seek greener pasture."
"In Nigeria stigma is a very crucial problem because when people develop mental illness they are hesitant to see specialists and afraid of what the society would say. It is very normal to say: "I want to see my surgeon," or "I want to see my gynecologist," but you hardly find some one say "I want to see my psychiatric." Even if a patient that is already certified mentally ill right returns home people tend to read meaning to every move he makes. The society should stop the stigmatization and let these people be."
"There are different symptoms peculiar to different categories but the most common ones are anxiety, becoming obsessive with something which is not reality, becoming paranoid believing everyone is against you, delusions, hallucination, eating disorder, lack of hygiene, mood swing, decreased interest in doing things, insomnia, substance abuse, avoiding social interactions, etc."
Can mental illness be cured?
"Absolutely yes. Science has established care for them."
Who needs a psychiatrist?
"Every person who has psychiatric problems and every one should be on the look out, especially for the mild symptoms."
"There are different treatments available for mental illness. For some it might be counseling and therapy, with some it might be medications and therapies. A short term or long term hospitalization could be necessary for people with severe cases."