Recently, I was going through my instagram feed and i saw a video of a man who almost commited suicide and was rescued by the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and what really got my attention was the way the man was being dragged like a thief by the LASWA officials. For the fact that someone wanted to end his life means he was going through so much, he probably looked for help but was not taken seriously or just couldn’t find the right place to ask for help. Some of us may say ‘is it not the same problem we are all facing in the country?’ but we must remember that not everyone is the same.
Growing up in Nigeria i was never educated on depression or mental health, in fact to me at that time it was one of those ‘white men illness’ you know? One of those thing we only see in American movies. According to this report by World Bank released earlier in the year, 22% of Nigerians exhibit depressive symptoms.
Depression is beyond feeling moody, sad or a bit under the weather, it is a serious mental illness which affects millions of people and requires medical attention. Depression affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. A person suffering from depression may have trouble carrying out normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes may feel as if life isn’t worth living which is why they feel suicide is the only way out.
In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Nigeria as the leading country with the highest number of people suffering from depression in Africa with 7,079,815. This rate is even more alarming because there are no adequate facilities and medical assistance put in place in Nigeria to help combat this illness. According to WHO, less than 10% of people who are depressed get diagnosed or treated effectively in Nigeria . Also, WHO’s statistics show that as at 2006, there were only 42 psychiatrists per 100,000 citizens and 20 psychologists per 100,000 in Nigeria, read more here. This could be one of the many reasons Nigerians are afraid to seek for assistance.
Asides this, there is little awareness on issues like this in Nigeria. We are not taught about this in school and we are rarely encouraged to come forward when we experience symptoms like; anxiety, feeling of hopelessness, sadness, and frequent thoughts about death. I remember when i was in secondary school, i used to feel sad a lot of times, sometimes i just wanted to get angry at someone just so i could be sad and cry and other times i just wanted to be on my own and alone. I didn’t realise until now that i was going through something more serious than just mood swings and even now saying it out loud makes me feel like i was kinda crazy. This is why most Nigerians would never come out to seek medical or professional help.
I have always admired the sense of pride Africans have but sometimes we need to put that black man pride to the side and tackle the issues like this so that more people can speak up.
In Nigeria commiting suicide is a criminal offence, but i personally think the law should be amended and the government should consider rehabilitation instead of jail time for people who try to commit suicide. The problem still remains that there are no policies, facilities or adequate assistance provided to tackle mental health issues in Nigeria.
Although there are few initiatives like the Nigerian Suicide Prevention Initiative which provides talk therapy to patients who call in or chat them, they also provide face to face therapy sections when needed.
Raising awareness is very important and would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to mental illness in Nigeria and a good way of raising awareness which would have a big impact is through film. The award winning American Netflix series “13 reasons why” which broke the internet upon its release last year because of its powerful message and the level of awareness it raised on suicide, is a good example of how movies can be used as an educational tool or the Nigerian series Shuga Naija which is a multimedia campaign which educates youths on HIV, safe sex and teen pregnancy. According to this article by the Daily News, a study completed by Northwestern University similarly suggested that the impact of “13 Reasons Why” may have been more positive than negative. The study found that the show fostered communication between kids and their parents about suicide. The show also raised awareness among teens regarding issues ranging from depression to bullying. This is why platforms like Homevida, are constantly driving for key societal issues to be highlighted through film and art because it is considered the best methods to educate people on various socio-cultural issues and depression and suicide are some of those issues.
The Nollywood industry today is the biggest film industry in Africa and the third largest film industry in the world, which is why the huge role they have to play in ensuring adequate awareness cannot be overemphasized. We need more buzz both online and offline about such issues.
Nigerians have to understand there is absolutely no shame in seeking for assistance when these symptoms are noticed. The role Nollywood and the entire entertainment industry has to play is extremely important and more films should be made in other to increase more awareness.
This article was first published on Medium and written by Nnenna Eze
Nnenna Eze is a communications officer with the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and is passionate about positive global change.