We Need to Talk: Nigeria’s Mental Health Crisis

    

Photo Courtesy Canva

A 300-level University of Benin student identified as ‘Christabel’ has succumbed to the deadly poison Snipper following the sudden breakup of a relationship. Again?

How often are we tempted to throw in the towel when doors slam in our distressed face? You use every trick in the book after watching your peers reach greater heights, wondering why their glory never seems to rub off on you despite your own tireless efforts. Like a wealthy tycoon pumping funds into a lucrative venture expected to yield abundantly, you’ve invested your dreams and hopes into that long-term relationship, only to watch your future crumble into fine dust when the love of your life ditches you for greener pastures. Hours spent poring over textbooks and handouts while your mates paint the town red don’t pay off, leaving your cash-strapped parents furious at having to fork out for yet another academic year. In a strife-filled world where reliable shoulders to lean on are few and far between, you imagine life would have been better if you hadn’t existed before you take drastic measures. Friends, family, and well-wishers gather round your lifeless remains, asking why a person with all the potential in the world made a deadly decision. Too late—once you’re gone, you’re gone.

As a second year university student, the pressure to maintain my grades and hold down a job affected nearly every aspect of my life. Add to this the stress my then-landlord heaped on me—the bloated hemp-smoking, nose-poking Jamaican layabout disapproved of tenants eating salads at night and sneezing in their own bedrooms, I kid you not. And don’t get me started on the obsessive ex who constantly stalked me on the phone after our breakup. Why did I have to put up with all his raging tension when I’d done nothing but stay out of trouble whilst refusing to walk down the aisle with a man I couldn’t love? True, others faced even bigger issues like homelessness and expulsion. Sure, our planet dealt with bigger issues including earthquakes, cancer, and bomb attacks in Iraq. And me? I stood on the platform at Barnes train lonely and sad, my endless tears freezing in the November cold.

Thank God I’d since left that God-forsaken hemp den for more decent accommodation, but even this stroke of good luck did nothing to lift my dark mood. I stared at the train tracks stretching across, wondering who the hell would miss me if I jumped onto those high-voltage lines. I’d always viewed suicide as the coward’s way out, describing anyone who succumbed to this method as a hopeless wimp, but as I shivered in the blustery wind I hated myself. Until I remembered my mother and father back home in Nigeria praying for my success. And the efficient lecturers who worked hard to teach me. And the course mates who supported me whenever I found myself stuck. And my prayer group who prayed for my progression after years of struggling to gain admission into a higher institution in my homeland before I returned to my birth country…

Life sucked, but someone cared.

Nigeria has once again hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Countless men and women dying, including UNN student Chukwuemeka Akachi; church pastor Michael Arowosaiye; UniPort undergraduate Hikmat Gbadamosi; polytechnic graduate Charles Orji; former student Tejiri Direia; Kogi University student Rebecca Michael; Chemical Engineering undergraduate Olaitan Gbadamosi; medical doctor Allwell Orji; polytechnic student Joseph Mayowa; Uniben student Christabel… Well-established/promising citizens hiding their own personal anguish instead of sharing their burden. Failed relationships and infidelity served as the reason in most of these cases. As Nigerians, we are afraid to discuss depression, fearing ridicule from a society that expects us to ‘man up’. Prior to university, my mother discouraged me from attending counselling sessions as recommended by my doctor, claiming a mental health entry would tarnish my health records, thus labelling me unstable for life. Only the intervention of a lecturer who encouraged me to pay the university counsellor visit a few weeks after my train station episode helped me on the right path to normality.  A few more sessions at the local hospital followed, and I cursed myself for not trusting my own instincts in the first place. In a nation where living standards are dangerously low while stress levels are on the increase, what steps has our government taken to spread mental awareness as opposed to pumping millions into a national football team yet to claim full victory at the World Cup?

Mental health issues often evoke images of straitjackets in psychiatric hospitals, but as celebrities such as Prince Harry, Adele, Kendall Jenner, and Robin Williams have proved, no-one is immune – the latter ended his own life despite a reputation as a renowned comedian. As a society, we need to destroy the stigma associated with mental issues by ditching our judgemental attitude, thus saving several lives. My own story could have ended differently if I hadn’t taken a minute to realise I had a life worth fighting for, but many others aren’t as fortunate. For every bunch of haters who bring you down, there’s always at least one person who believes in you, but self-belief is always the first key.

We need to talk. Will you listen?  

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