A culture of stigma and discrimination fuelled by lack of rehabilitation has led thousands of young people to commit suicide, turn to drug abuse and feel alone says Richard Emmanuel, a Nigerian born and bred student and model dealing with Bipolar disorder.
In 2017, the World Health Organisation said 7,079,815 Nigerians suffered from one of the most ignored and misunderstood forms of mental disorder in the country – depression.
And looking back to last year during a mental health committee and stakeholders Workshop in Abuja, the Federal Ministry of health Abdulaziz Abdullahi said an estimate of 40 million Nigerians were suffering from mental health disorders.
This statement and many others led a number of people to raise questions via social media on what the governments were doing to help combat the issue.
The increase in mental health sufferers made Richard, who was born and raised in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria want to speak up on his own struggles and discuss proposed solutions.
The now London business management student explained to Abbianca Makoni for The Speaker that the widespread belief within the Nigerian community that mental health issues stem from witchcraft, laziness or lack of prayer.
“People don’t take mental health issues seriously. They think it’s just a joke or it only happens to you if you let it. I myself used to think it was a joke but it’s not.
“I used to think I would never think of killing myself, I never thought I would beat my sister to the extent that she would need the police. It all just happened,” he said.
The twenty-one-year-old was told February last year he had Bipolar and says he felt “hurt” when the ‘secret’ was finally shared because most people in his family knew or had assumed but kept quiet.
“I never knew about the word ‘BIPOLAR’ until my friend used it on me but while growing up, I always had tendencies. I was always shouting at my mum, getting angry over nothing and the constant mood swings.
“As a child, I had lots of mood swings and it made people in my family scared of me. They would always tell me ‘Richard, ah you are just like your daddy.
“I felt sad that it was hidden from me because now I kind of understood why my dad (who also had Bipolar) left us when he did. He couldn’t handle it. Even with the drugs.”
Despite Richard’s achievements which include closing Catwalk Soiree during London Fashion in September 2018 and featuring in the new Top Boy movie on Netflix Richard says he’s had a tough few years trying to get to this point in his career – from lost opportunities and lost friendships.
His violent tendencies reached a peak last year when he beat his sister after a breakup with his girlfriend and after threatening to beat her again she decided to leave their shared accommodation and still hasn’t returned.
Since his diagnosis last year he’s spent his time reading more about Bipolar and other mental health issues as well as actively going to therapy.
He hopes to help raise awareness on his struggles and remove any misconceptions on mental health issues but “most importantly” help others in the community open up.
“I could have had special education or something to prepare me for this. But back home (Nigeria) government do not release the adequate funds needed to make citizens aware of various illness’ like this,” he added.
He Believes the next steps if progress is to be made is for the government to fund and create space for acceptance, conversation and preparations for the obstacles ahead by including mental health education and guidance from a young age in schools.
“This doesn’t need to happen just in Nigeria but the whole of Africa.”
Nigerian activists have been demanding a new and modernised mental health legislation, which would change the ‘old’ Act of 1958 – The ideas proposed by the federal lawmakers and many of the already frustrated citizens include: better access to treatment, patient protection, financing, human resources, more mental health services, and an increase in staff available to care for the patients.
A number of people in the country have decided to not depend on the government for impact and change and have attempted to take things into their own hands.
Well known campaigns and organisations include:
MANI (Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative) Non-profit 24 hour helpline
Project Get Naked, a non-profit organisation focusing on mental health and raising awareness through music photography and art.
Mandate Health an NGO duly registered in Nigeria. Its core mandate centres on mental health interventionist programs & projects, advocacy and outreaches.
Despite the impact made by such organisations and NGO’s, citizens of Nigeria still take to Twitter to voice their frustrations on the lack of services available in the country for those suffering from mental health.
Some Twitter users tweet under the hashtags #Endstigma #Iamaware and one Twitter user recently said:
“Mental health is not important in Nigeria. No Social Services, no 24 hours crisis intervention centres for the youths to ventilate positively. Services are so scanty in that country; a Country where most people need urgent assistance. But why?”
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