Mental health is for all of us: The campaign to build mental health awareness in Nigeria
Nigeria / Freedom for Health / 7 dec 2017
Mental health remains one of the most neglected areas of health in Nigeria. It is estimated that 20% of Nigerians suffer from some form of mental illness. However, only 3.3% of the government health budget goes towards mental health services, with the majority of this small allocation going solely to psychiatric hospitals. The lack of access to comprehensive mental health services leaves many Nigerians suffering alone and in silence. This suffering is compounded by the heavy stigma attached to many mental illnesses in the county. A lack of understanding of the causes of mental illness, modes of transmission and appropriate treatment often leads to the blaming of individuals for their mental illness or the perception that they are somehow a danger to society. The widespread belief in supernatural causation of mental illness also adds to the perception that the mentally ill should be avoided. Therefore, those suffering from mental illness must not only battle the symptoms of their illness but also the disadvantages created by societal reactions to it.
Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative(MANI) aims to end the stigma associated with mental illness. Providing a community of acceptance, they create the opportunity for people to tell their mental health stories openly in an environment without fear. Their online awareness campaigns including “#NotaCharacterFlaw” and “#DepressionFeelsLike” aim to break stereotypes and assumptions through allowing sufferers to tell their stories about the reality of mental illness. MANI aims to build understand among Nigerians that mental illness is an illness like any other, stating “We don't ask people with broken legs or cancer why they have them; so why do we feel the need to ask a depressed person why?”
One of the ways to spread awareness is through contributors providing testimonies of their experience with a mental illness. One anonymous contributor described his life with bi-polar disorder. “Suffering from bi-polar disorder is like leading a double life” he explained. “On some days you wake up with absolutely no motivation to do anything, you don’t make contact with the outside world. Other days you wake up with a sudden rush of creativity.” He also described the toll his condition took on his life. “Bi-polar disorder is torturous because you can imagine great things you want to do, you can think of great things you want to do, then all of a sudden you find yourself in a dark place where you don’t even have the motivation to start.”
MANI, despite limited funding and the immense stigma surrounding the issue, have already achieved tremendous results as a civil society organisation, becoming the country’s largest and most active mental health organisation. The response that their online campaigning and public events have sparked indicates a tremendous interest in engaging with mental health issues among Nigeria’s youth. This provides real hope that changing the face of mental health in Nigeria is possible.
Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative was a winner of the 2017 Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards in the Civil Society Organisation category.