Like many Nigerians, I grew up seeing quite a few people wandering the streets, talking to themselves without directing the conversation to anyone in particular. Sometimes, a fit of laughter – the type that suggests a satisfying end to a happy conversation with an acquaintance, you still can’t see anyone in the near vicinity that these people are conversing with. We say they are Were (mental health patients – not a positive tone).
I hear different of stories suggesting the cause of the illness. As mental health disorder differs and sometimes may not surface until one is in teenage years so it allows people to make up different reasons for the illness.
Recently on my road trip to Ekiti, southwest Nigeria, sat by the road side was a young lady probably in her early 20s picking up rubbish from the dump, looked very unkempt. My friend who has kindly drove me pointed to the young lady saying “see were.” I looked sideways briefly and returned my gaze to the road. It used to be funny to me but not anymore, it is just plain dehumanising. I asked my friend if he were to be God, whom would he listen to – a nation that is working hard educating citizens to raise awareness of mental health illness and help those affected with necessary assistance they could afford or a nation that claims to be religious but throws their mental health patients on the road? My friend promptly said since God is kind, he chose the former.
When I was little there was a lady called Elizabeth in my small town of Osun State. Everyone in town knew her as she was always on the road. She was well known for being very outspoken against child abuse especially anything that could cause a child to cry. So mothers will yell, Eli nbo (Eli is coming) meaning you would avoid doing anything that could cause your child to shed tears when Eli is in the vicinity. There was a story told that Eli once hit a woman because her child was crying. To Eli, it was irresponsible for any parent to cause their child to shed tears, she associated tears to be results of great discomfort. Eli has a child every other year and the child is taken away from her as soon as they were delivered.
There are numerous stories floating in the air about how witch doctors would encourage men to sleep with were to ‘cure’ infertility. So if a mentally unstable person could get pregnant by the said man, then the conclusion was that the infertility problem lies with the wife – irony.
Now that I am older and wiser, I have seen lots and lots of people from different parts of the world. I have seen and lived among other cultures and have seen that mental health is a global issue, it affects quite a lot of people regardless of who or where you are from.
In Nigeria today, mental health patients still source of amusement to most as the belief they must have done something wrong to deserve the witch’s spell being cast upon them is still rife.
Government could do a lot more to create more inclusive society. However, one of the things I have learnt in my journey so far that greatly distinguish us from other nations especially the west is the lack of information. We need to raise more awareness that mental health problems affect people all over the world. This will help us focus more on how we could better help one another and get proper diagnosis of the type of mental health illness we are dealing with.
Knowing that people with mental health problems could still live a decent life without being thrown in the streets could help the patients significantly. Understanding that helping them to get proper diagnosis from a specialist will be of great help rather than sending them to a church camp where they were drugged most of the time.
Here is one example that sums up the way most Nigeria see mental health problem. Here
Now, think about it if mental health problems in Nigeria were caused by the witches, who’s behind the mental health issues all around the globe?