Àrùn Ọpọlọ

At innocent age of 10 (if not earlier) in Nigeria, most children would easily say boldly that the ‘madman’ down the road offended some witches in the village hence he has ‘turned’ crazy or that the half naked lady with mental health issue is so because she jilted her boyfriend so he casts ‘crazy’ spell on her (this one gets the ladies every single time so they stay in abusive relationship for the fear of spell).

Of all the reasons people give to avoid understanding mental health issues, the above I believe are parts of the major contributing factors that prevented us from showing a bit of interest towards understanding mental health issues.

I enjoyed this piece by John Green, the author of the The Fault In Our StarsThe quote below sums up what I have learnt from observing my nephew living with bipolar. 

“The metaphors we most often employ when discussing disease—that it is an enemy to defeat, or a hurdle to jump and put behind us—don’t really apply to chronic illness. Instead, you live with it. You get better. You get worse. You get better again.” John Green

Mental health issue is something I grow up learning to pray against that ‘God, may I not have mental health problem in my life’ ‘Ọlọrun, ma je k’ori mi daru l’aye mi’ 

My understanding of mental health problem used to be that of an illness that can be wished or cast upon someone, at the same token can be wished or cast away.

In the 80’s there used to be a man probably in his 40’s lived at a burial ground in Mayfair, Ife. The burial ground is adjacent to the road that leads to Universal Tutorial College (now university I heard). His name was Lati. Everyone knew him as Lati Were (Lati the crazy one). He is usually clothed but can be quite aggressive. He had dàda (dreads) on his head due to years of untouched locks so the hair was just matted.

His preferred route was walking from Mayfair all the way to Teaching Hospital then back. There are hundreds of shops on both sides of the road even at that time – Mayfair, Idiọmọ, Lagere, Ọja tuntun, Sabo, then teaching hospital; all these spots were areas where Lati begged for food or snatched if he so wishes.

There are a couple of long term mental health sufferers in town, Lati was one, then Eli Were (Elizabeth the crazy). Eli’s case was eye-opening. People called her Were yet she is pregnant almost every year and the child taken away from her immediately after birth, this is the time she is most upset and would cry down Alapata and Akarabata roads for weeks on end – cruel, cruel world we live in.

I only started thinking something is odd with the way we define mental health problem in Nigeria shortly after I left home. And since then it is just hard to take anyone who believes people who suffer from mental health illness deserves to live on the road seriously on any subject.

To come back to Lati Were. One day in the mid 90’s, there were talk in town that his family came from out of town, brought nice clothes (they must have been watching him to know his calm days.) They whizzed him away.

People were happy for Lati Were. Now thinking about it, I really do hope he responded to treatment and now living a full life.

With technology we learn more about different mental health spectrum: Bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder etc – all of these are often lumped up together in Nigeria. Even someone with depression can easily be pushed out of the house to be dropped on the streets of a big city where she would not bring shame to the family.

Like most things it will be hard to change everyone’s views on mental health illness at the same time but at least those who can read can learn that Nigeria is not isolated – that mental health illness cuts across race and class – so we can learn more about how best to relate to family, friend or the man on the road in the way that would not add to the challenges they are already facing.

In southwest, I heard UCH Ibadan has the best Psychiatric ward for both adults and children – even directing folks here is one way of helping humanity.

Categories: Family, Nigeria

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15 replies

  1. FK, I enjoyed this immensely, a real insight into how some folks view others with mental issues.

    It comes as no surprise that mental health is not taken seriously in Nigeria, as you know it is only in the last 5 years that the PM (prime minister has mentioned mental health in public addresses – due to the badgering of the former deputy prime minister ie Nick Clegg). This doesn’t excuse the ‘short shrift’ that the majority of people who are mentally challenged in Nigeria receive.

    Research is very important and funding should be secured not just for this but for the broad spectrum of ailments that affect society. The money is there, it is just needs to be diverted to the appropriate place, not buying hundreds of luxury vehicles, or creating redundant sub-standard airports all over the place.

    I have a question, you said when you left home (I take it you mean your parental home). Your view of how people came to suffer from such conditions changed from people to falling foul of someone, to those who may have been subject to circumstances that pushed them beyond a point they could no longer handle the stresses. How did this come about? Did you study a course? What caused you to reject such beliefs, merely moving away from home, doesn’t necessarily change one’s beliefs? Some people move from Africa to Europe and still believe strongly in FGM, so movement doesn’t necessarily bring change.

    Also with the advent of ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’ – I thought such such beliefs of witchcraft, spells etc would have died out. The followers of those religions would put all their ‘eggs in one basket’ and rely on Jesus Christ or the teachings of the prophet Mohammed to free them from such disempowering notions. Yet, this is not the case, how can that be?

    I was saddened to hear that some families would dump a member of their household in a deserted place if they were discovered to have mental issues. The love in such cases can only be ‘skin deep’.

    Did you hear of the case of Rashidi Yekini (one of Nigeria’s best strikers). He apparently had mental issues, but didn’t harm anyone. One day some relatives came and took him away (forcibly), the next thing we heard the man was dead. He was only in his early 40s and was fit, he used to go to the stadium to run on a daily basis. The NFA (Nigerian football federation) abandoned him and so did society…


    • Ha, good to hear from you, glad you enjoyed the post. I like that you said ‘The money is there, it is just needs to be diverted to the appropriate place…’ can’t say it any better.

      Yes, ‘home’ is Nigeria. No, I did not take any courses – it was just observation that awakens me. First it was in Seattle when a friend who lives in Belleview talked about a psychiatry building close to her house – the first thing I asked was that ‘so Oyinbo too had mental health issues?’ I asked this because I had thought mental health patients belonged on the streets.

      Then in the UK, a few years ago a Kenyan friend had a mental breakdown – I visited her both at Lewisham and Muadsley hospital. That really opened my eye. Then I listened to Ruby Wax ted talk and a host of other people sharing their experiences, then it just does not make sense anymore that in Nigeria we lump everyone together and the unlucky ones live on the road.

      The ‘trading crazies’ is actually very common. There was an outcry a few years ago when the governor was cleaning up Lagos, he collected lots of these guys, gives them some treatment and collect information of their origin – those who were from out of town received free ride back home. The idea was that each state should look after their own destitute.

      Personally, my brother inlaw who I think is a lot nicer person than my sister has bipolar, he is okay most of the time, he is able to hold a job down and build a decent home for the family. Unfortunately my nephew inherits this, it first shows on him around 12. I just could not bear the way the poor boy was chained down and drugged for weeks at a god forbidden church.

      Anyways, it was because of him that I listened to lots of tedtalk on mental health. Thankfully now he is a happy 19year old. Finished secondary school and learning welding…that is what he wanted to do.

      The church and alfas are the first point of reference for most of our people. While the place provide refuge for people, it is disgusting most of the time and full of abuse. All that they do go unchecked as the government is just happy that people are hidden out of sight on our hills than being on the streets.


      • Thank you for such a detailed response, I do appreciate it.

        Unbelievable, your upbringing in Nigeria left you with the belief that the mentally challenged belonged to the streets. Then to hear that those with psychiatric issues are disposed of by some families – this portrays a very negative image of the way society deals with such affected persons.

        I have come to enjoy and learn from your reasoning, it is delightful. There are indeed better ways of doing things, and you are definitely open to that. Many of my relatives in Nigeria are not open to such ideas (even some of those who now live abroad are not).

        Good to hear that your nephew is doing well. I hope that your Kenyan friend is now ‘back on her feet’ and has resumed her life. Maybe she was lucky, she fell ‘ill’ in the UK, not too sure about mental care in her native Kenya.

        Thanks for explaining why the coming of organised religion, has not resulted in the eradication of disempowering beliefs such as spells, superstition and witchcraft.

        Keep up the good work.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you jco for the kind words. This is why I don’t have any patient for Nigerians in diaspora who still believe this witchcraft or ‘their fault’ mentality – they should know better.

          Thanks, Kenyan friend is back on her feet now, I later learnt she had mental health problem history, she stopped her meds hence the relapse – if you see the number of our people in these hospitals, it will make you see ‘us’ differently. Here are people being housed/looked after in a foreign land while we condemned them to the streets in our own land and yet we are the holiest people on the planet – just does not add up?

          Thanks again, it is nice to be able to see someone who can be honest about issue like this otherwise, no hope.


          • You’re are right, how ‘our’ societies treat the less fortunate doesn’t add up. That is one skill that has served you well, observing and drawing your own conclusions.

            I will include a link to one of Nigeria’s greatest football players (the aforementioned Rashidi Yekini). Probably you wont have the time to read the whole thing. Start reading from paragraph 10.

            “But when he retired, he withdrew. Most of the other big players who come back, they move into coaching, or they get involved in administration, in marketing. He became totally withdrawn…”

            Here is the link.

            This is a person with a high public profile, yet when he ran into troubles, he was left to wither. So no surprise that those who are less fortunate but suffer from similar conditions, are suffering even more.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you for the link, it was a thorough piece on Rashidi Yekini’s life in the limelight – such a talented guy.

              Sad, but that is the reality of our people – mental health issue is still a big taboo. With such high profile, we could have used his case to raise awareness but family are often too ashamed to be associated with ‘were’


              • Ashamed!! They were responsible for physically manhandling him out of his home. Two weeks later the man is dead!!
                This is one aspect where there is a big difference between Brits and Nigerians. The death of Amy Winehouse was not a glamorous affair, but the parents chose to not to hide it, but create a foundation to help others who clearly need the help their daughter did not receive. Pretending like nothing happened when a tragedy clearly occurred solves nothing. Hence the family can move on knowing they have done some good, whilst Nigerians keep everything locked up behind the padlock of a “taboo”. Taboo never solved anything problems need to be aired and discussed honestly. Failure to learn any lesson, mean other needless and similar tragedies are likely to occur.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Me too, it is sad. On issue like this, I don’t rely on any public figure to be useful because most don’t know better and would rather use public money to take their family out of the country for treatment than raise awareness.

                  Thank you! Amy Winehouse is a perfect example. I recently read an excerpt from her mother’s book – it was frank and beautifully written. I even read in the comment people talking about reducing their binge drinking – isn’t that what one should aspire to achieve so others don’t fall into same pit?

                  Not much will change until individuals and government sponsor undercover agents to reveal the truths about myths that is turning us hostile towards one another. That taboo now has gone completely stupid (excuse my language here) courtesy of religion.


  2. Very insightful. Are you a social worker? If you are then you are my kindred. Your story reminds me of a mentally ill man living inside Bodija neighbourhood. He has been combing the streets of Bodija for more than ten years. We call him Sule and the sad thing is that he has been accepted as a member of the neighbourhood. Nobody has done anything about helping him including our dear government. Interestingly when you ask himsome questions he would answer you and he is not aggressive either. Somehow i believe that if he had gotten help he had the propensity to live a normal life. I wish i could do something to help him but i am wondering what? How?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I am not a social worker o. I just think it is sad that being poor is the highest crime anyone could commit in the land, social issues is right in our faces daily…

      May be Sule is suffering from a type of mental disorder that can be ‘normalised’ by meds. In terms of helping him, knowing his family would help so he has somewhere to return to and one can advice the family to go to UCH for proper diagnosis also they are likely going to be counselled. If you managed to get in touch, please let me know, I don’t mind chipping in too even if it’s little.


  3. As always, she draws our attention to serious issues that need addressing. My President well done. I thinking, are our people really trained on the difference between each stage of mental illness so we don’t just bundle someone going through depression and trauma and lock up with those that need to be separated.

    I had a cousin who dressed well but inbetween he’d leave home and wander. He’d walk for long distances and whenever he passed me in school (he wasn’t a student just use to wander through the place on his way from home or back) he would recognise me, ask about my dad (he had a special name for him) and move on. He was so handsome and well-dressed that if you didn’t know, you won’t know.

    I think his case was bewitchment (step-mother things). At some point, he will be chained down as he would talk and talk and they thought him crazy. But whenever he saw me, he’d tell me ‘he’s not crazy but he doesn’t understand why they won’t believe him’.

    He’s late now and i miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Queen for sharing your cousin’s story. That is a big problem, no doubt every mental illness are bundled together in Nigeria from anxiety disorder, post partum depression to full blown schizophrenia. Sorry about your cousin.

      This is where it is important for society to understand as some mental disorders are hereditary – so how many people are we going to alienate in our family/society?

      Also, half of the problem is lack of helpful information, people don’t know where to go to get proper diagnosis and of course the number of help available for the population is depressingly small.

      Hopefully with technology, awareness in this area will foster knowledge on how to best treat those suffering from the illness.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The obstacle to understanding mental problem in Southwestern Nigeria is rooted in people’s belief that is wished upon the affected by people with evil power and as such, can also be wished away by traditional herbalists or, in some cases, by “pastors” of new-age churches.

    Even if the obstacle is finally scaled through education, THAT of government’s indifference will be a key ingredient in the mix that will eventually produce a road map to mentally-ill Nigerians getting treatment they deserve so that they can live in dignity.

    Thanks for bringing to light the problems of the mentally-ill which is often shrouded in secrecy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many thanks for your input here. Agreed, government indifference to mental health problem is abysmal. Well, not unlike their attitude to all things that concerned ordinary folks.

      In a way, I think drive to better understand the most common mental health issues in Nigeria need to be championed by ordinary folks on the streets, family and friends – those who know best to enlighten others. Nigeria government will not lead on this as the ignorance of the populace works well for them – it is shameful… but there is hope, I think.


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