Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.

Nigerians belief in gods and spirits, they belief people can be possessed by good spirit and this will bring out good-luck and productivity. They equally belief that people can be possessed by evil spirits, which is the reason for the numerous human problems. If you are going through a rather difficult situation, then the evil gods must be at work, they reason you have offended the gods or have been cursed by some wicked spirit; this often lead to condemnation and scorn of those affected. There is the belief that every human problem has spiritual side to it and top among those believed to be possessed by very evil and dangerous spirit are those with mental illness.

Mental health victims are regularly stigmatized, scorned and neglected, they are seen everywhere in Nigeria as being unfortunate, sinistral and possessed by evil powers and not fit to be classed as normal human beings. Most of the people suffering mental illness are often shackled, locked up and beaten. A lot of these victims are everywhere on the streets of Nigeria, in their own little-confused world, cut out from others and rated as being obsessed with evil spirits that must be ignored and done away with. They are regularly beaten and no one wants to come near them or offer any assistance. When the victims are hungry and go to people for assistance, they are often ignored and the people they go to are advised to register for spiritual cleansing and deliverance in the various religious places so they can be cleansed of the evil spirits that have just visited them.

The mental health victims are often taken to traditional herbalists, spiritualists, witch-doctors and other religious places where is believed that the priests can consult the gods to drive away the evil spirit they've been bewitched with. In these places, the mental patients are subjected to the worst human treatment because of the belief that they are possessed by evil spirits, they are given bad food, concoctions made from various incogitable herbs and spices and they are made to sleep outside on the floor in the worst of weathers, while others are incarcerated in dark, lonely, damp, cells with no lights. There is the belief that the victims are not capable of doing their own reasoning and only will reason if beaten. Some of these priests turn the victims into beggars taking them around the streets in shackles, begging alms and making money out of them. It could not get worse and these have gone on for so long in Nigeria's various communities, because everybody considers it acceptable.

The families of the victims in Nigeria are not helping equally; they simply want to get rid of what they consider as embarrassment and are fast to dump the victims in these despicable places to cover their shame. Many do not go back to see their mentally ill relations again and these are the reasons the victims are treated like criminals.

I wish to point out clearly that mental health victims are not possessed by any spirit as we all belief. Mental illness is a common problem; about 1 in 3 people the world over are affected by this diagnosis. People having mental illness are just casualties experiencing problems with the way they think, behave or feel. Victims of mental illness can still lead productive and fulfilling lives with appropriate support and right treatments. They are not to be written off as we do in Nigeria. Some of them need drugs and other medical treatments, while others only need our support and advice to foster their full recovery. Mental illness is just like any other sickness, is not often the victims fault and is not something to be ashamed of.

Mental illness does not just develop in people; it is often the accumulation of emotional breakdowns through loss, panic attacks, phobias, heartbreaks, and anxiety. It could also be due to lack of self confidence, stress, depression, schizophrenia and loneliness. There are many more reasons people could be mentally ill. It is important we get a quick help once we get ourselves into any of these problems, as difficult as it may seems, most of us suffer one mental health problem or the other, but it is how we deal with them that determines how far we go. Nigerians are quick to conclude that only those who are completely cut out are mentally ill, but most of us are one way or the other mentally ill and regularly needs help. The mental health victims should not be stigmatized, and they can recover fully and get over their worst, though some may relapse from time to time due to vulnerability, but many will emerge from the experience feeling stronger and wiser.

Most Nigerians have gone through a lot of stress over the years caused by bad and clueless leadership. We have experienced the worst poverty anywhere, and the loss of our loved ones through tragic deaths, inadequate infrastructures that keeps life going and many more problems. All these contribute to mental breakdown and inability to lead a reasonable life often leading to depression and consequent mental illness. We need to be more receptive and supportive of ourselves through these trying periods. In 2007, WHO estimated that about 20% of Nigerians suffer mental illness, at the present age that figure probably must have doubled.

Let us change our views about mental illness, it is just another natural process we all go through, we all get sick in bad conditions, we get head aches, body aches, malaria and even cancer. Most of these other diseases are worse than some of the mental health conditions and anyone could experience it and recover from it like any other diseases. It is not an affliction from any bad spirit. Let us treat mental health sufferers with respect and not shun them. Some of them are only going through a lot at the time and with our support they can come back stronger.

Abiola Olaifa writes. (abiolla@gmail.com, www.abiolla.com).



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Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
PatrickIroegbu posted on 09-19-2011, 20:04:46 PM
QUOTE:
I wish to point out clearly that mental health victims are not possessed by any spirit as we all belief. Mental illness is a common problem; about 1 in 3 people the world over are affected by this diagnosis. People having mental illness are just casualties experiencing problems with the way they think, behave or feel. Victims of mental illness can still lead productive and fulfilling lives with appropriate support and right treatments. They are not to be written off as we do in Nigeria. Some of them need drugs and other medical treatments, while others only need our support and advice to foster their full recovery. Mental illness is just like any other sickness, is not often the victims fault and is not something to be ashamed of.


@Abiola Olaifa

Your view point in this article, I think, is not reflective of what concrete and validated research findings in Nigeria show. Your article seems more of an emotional expresssion of how you feel about victims of mental illness. I am wondering if any healer, including hospital psychiatrists in Nigeria will consider your view and claim to be true of what mental illness causation is constituted of given the above quotation. Including myself who conducted fieldwork among the Igbo of Nigeria and read extensively the literature on insanity in Africa, Asia and other societies, I find it difficult to agree with your assertion.

I suggest that you will need to do some reading and research in the field of mental illness in African societies.
PEI
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
Abiolla posted on 09-20-2011, 10:01:31 AM
@ Patrickiroegbu

Thanks for your comment, I did have the same sentiment before meeting a Nigerian that had gone through mental illness in Nigeria and the trauma he was put through by his family and friends, meeting the gentleman changed a lot of my perception about this illness. I use to feel the same way before understanding better.

I will also advise you to get a book titled "The Road Less Travelled" by Dr. M Scott Peck; An Harvard Trained Psychiatrist. I personally rate this best selling book, first published in 1978, as one of the best books ever written on psychotherapy, traditional values and life. The book is on amazon.com and other sites. You will get all the answers you need about us human and why we go mad. Let me stop there because he has not paid me for advert,

Take care bros, much love.
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
PatrickIroegbu posted on 09-20-2011, 23:48:12 PM
@Abiola,

Thank you for appreciating my comment. Thank you also for the book reference which will be of interest to me.

Invariably, every educative book is written with a perspective blended with facts and theory. Though I have not read Dr. Scott Peck's book but I have come across references to his book and some articles. His gist about psychiatry is not entirely different from other grand theories of mental disturbance and the curiosities people have and face in terms of challenges and therapeutic practices.

Yet in Nigerian and African societies such as Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Efik, Hausa, Fulani, Shona - belief in spirit influence is well known. Spirits are not only established causal factors but are also part of the cultural resources mobilized to heal mental trouble and socially related disturbances.

Medical anthropologists who study healing institutions, patients and healers in different cultural contexts have contributed so much to the development and plural understanding of health care systems. Ethnographies that they produce do not only provide insights but also speak volumes about the documented experiences of patients and healers on the subject of mental troubles. Both indigenous and foreign scholars and policy formulators, including WHO recognize the trendy experiences and successful healing methods.

A biomedical/hospital psychiatrist like Dr. Scott Peck and his works can analyze whatever biomedical and psychotherapeutic and clinical issues that informed his claims based on genetic issues, biomedical and psychosomatic conditions. But again, it has to be noted that lived experiences of healers and patients in a specific socio-cultural context will always stand out. That is to say, hospital psychiatrists' claim to continue to justify budget allocations will not hide the fact that there are other cultural factors that cause mental conditions outside the biomedical sphere.

Up until now, indigenous medicine has continued to flourish and a major aspect of endogenous approach stems from its capacity to treat mental illness more effectively than psychiatric orthodoxy. We are all aware that psyhiatrists have not established the real causes of mental illness and have equally not found how to treat the episodes scientifically. What psychiatriatrists manage are the symptoms of mental disturbance fashioned around stresses and other related triggers such as you mentioned in your article. Repeatedly, psychiatrists have told the USA Senate Committee on Health and Mental Institutions that they do not know the true causes and have not found how to cure it.

Efforts made are simply to keep victims of mentall illness on drugs to cope and live a life that they possibly can. Once one is diagnosed with with mental health problem, it is expected that the one will live with the condition all life. Relapses lead to re-assessing the patient with enhanced medication and social support to continue to cope.

Regarding possession you claimed to be a none causal issue, I have no hesitation to point out that you got it completely wrong - particularly in the African context. In Nigeria, it is clear that belief in spirits constitutes part of the people's daily cosmology of their world and existential beings. Indigenous medical practitioners themselves attest to having passed through the exprience of possession to emerge as healers in the field of their possession. Example, mami wota or water spirit is a supper popular belief, philosopy and experience of the powerful influence the queen water deity has on its victims and adherents. The possession cult of mami wota is wide spread across Africa and in diaspora too.

If you could read up some articles in the web about this mami wota phenomenon, including even a book review I submitted and take a closer look at people involved in the cult of this powerful possessor spirit, I think that we can stand at best to explain what is true to people's experiences and how they received care to cope. Dr. Scott Peck may not have written about mami wota or water spirit possession factor in Nigeria, South Africa or Sudan because the dynamics of possession it carries does not belong to and cannot be explained in a biomedical psychiatric language.

The point I am making is that possession is a serious part of mental health challenges and will continue to be so. I have severally been consulted by Nigerians living in the diaspora regarding issues pertaining to their mental health condition which had been associated with possession or spirit influence. We cannot rule out the fact that mental illness has different explanatory perspectives - therefore necessitating varied resources and techniques of healing considered appropriate to each of the cases of mental health care puzzle.
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
Denker posted on 09-21-2011, 00:45:23 AM
maazi Patrickiroegbu, nwanne, i love dat post #4......wishing ya more high spirit in ya research work....may the LIGHT be ya guide...amen!
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
Smartomoge posted on 09-21-2011, 04:27:40 AM
I am very curious about this write up of yours. Are you saying that BELIEF in possession leads to mental illness? Or the possession itself? Because the writer is right - people treat mental illness as a spiritual rather than a medical phenomenon. Please clarify. Also, can you point me in the direction of the book review you wrote?

Much appreciated.

QUOTE:
@Abiola,

Thank you for appreciating my comment. Thank you also for the book reference which will be of interest to me.

Invariably, every educative book is written with a perspective blended with facts and theory. Though I have not read Dr. Scott Peck's book but I have come across references to his book and some articles. His gist about psychiatry is not entirely different from other grand theories of mental disturbance and the curiosities people have and face in terms of challenges and therapeutic practices.

Yet in Nigerian and African societies such as Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, Efik, Hausa, Fulani, Shona - belief in spirit influence is well known. Spirits are not only established causal factors but are also part of the cultural resources mobilized to heal mental trouble and socially related disturbances.

Medical anthropologists who study healing institutions, patients and healers in different cultural contexts have contributed so much to the development and plural understanding of health care systems. Ethnographies that they produce do not only provide insights but also speak volumes about the documented experiences of patients and healers on the subject of mental troubles. Both indigenous and foreign scholars and policy formulators, including WHO recognize the trendy experiences and successful healing methods.

A biomedical/hospital psychiatrist like Dr. Scott Peck and his works can analyze whatever biomedical and psychotherapeutic and clinical issues that informed his claims based on genetic issues, biomedical and psychosomatic conditions. But again, it has to be noted that lived experiences of healers and patients in a specific socio-cultural context will always stand out. That is to say, hospital psychiatrists' claim to continue to justify budget allocations will not hide the fact that there are other cultural factors that cause mental conditions outside the biomedical sphere.

Up until now, indigenous medicine has continued to flourish and a major aspect of endogenous approach stems from its capacity to treat mental illness more effectively than psychiatric orthodoxy. We are all aware that psyhiatrists have not established the real causes of mental illness and have equally not found how to treat the episodes scientifically. What psychiatriatrists manage are the symptoms of mental disturbance fashioned around stresses and other related triggers such as you mentioned in your article. Repeatedly, psychiatrists have told the USA Senate Committee on Health and Mental Institutions that they do not know the true causes and have not found how to cure it.

Efforts made are simply to keep victims of mentall illness on drugs to cope and live a life that they possibly can. Once one is diagnosed with with mental health problem, it is expected that the one will live with the condition all life. Relapses lead to re-assessing the patient with enhanced medication and social support to continue to cope.

Regarding possession you claimed to be a none causal issue, I have no hesitation to point out that you got it completely wrong - particularly in the African context. In Nigeria, it is clear that belief in spirits constitutes part of the people's daily cosmology of their world and existential beings. Indigenous medical practitioners themselves attest to having passed through the exprience of possession to emerge as healers in the field of their possession. Example, mami wota or water spirit is a supper popular belief, philosopy and experience of the powerful influence the queen water deity has on its victims and adherents. The possession cult of mami wota is wide spread across Africa and in diaspora too.

If you could read up some articles in the web about this mami wota phenomenon, including even a book review I submitted and take a closer look at people involved in the cult of this powerful possessor spirit, I think that we can stand at best to explain what is true to people's experiences and how they received care to cope. Dr. Scott Peck may not have written about mami wota or water spirit possession factor in Nigeria, South Africa or Sudan because the dynamics of possession it carries does not belong to and cannot be explained in a biomedical psychiatric language.

The point I am making is that possession is a serious part of mental health challenges and will continue to be so. I have severally been consulted by Nigerians living in the diaspora regarding issues pertaining to their mental health condition which had been associated with possession or spirit influence. We cannot rule out the fact that mental illness has different explanatory perspectives - therefore necessitating varied resources and techniques of healing considered appropriate to each of the cases of mental health care puzzle.
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
Abiolla posted on 09-21-2011, 06:13:23 AM
@PatrickIrioegbu

Thank you once again for that analysis. I do know that people can be possessed by spirits afterall even Jesus drove out evil spirits from people and events like that is very prevalent in our African part of the world.

I have heard of mami wota, ogbanje and other spirits causing havoc in our local communities based on our superstitious beliefs and practises. I have done a through analysis of mental illness in Nigeria and convinced that we have more reason to be mad biomedically than being influenced by any spirits.

We all know how things work back home and the stress people go through to survive, coupled with constant breakdowns and conflicts and many more reasons listed in my article. This from a pure mind clearly would make peoples psychotherapeutic state of mind flawed. Continuing to narrow every little issue to superstitious spirits and gods makes it more difficult to diagonise every little health problems in our society and makes mad people more alienated and maltreated. If you read my argument, you will see clearly that I am very particular in the way mentally ill victims are treated in Nigeria, because of the belief that they are possessed by evil spirit.

I will still opine that we do need to break free in this age and time from those spirit spirit thing and try to address our issues conceptually and treat this issues as they arrive, if not we will get to a point where people will need to seek an herbalist when they get headache as being handiwork of their mother-in-law and they will have to call Amadioha for healing rather than buying paracetamol. Spirit are there no doubt, but little do people visit this places anymore, people would rather go to mosque and churches, that is not to say some still don't visit. But madness is just like cancer, would every cancer patient have been afflicted or possessed by Ogbanje spirit. I would not say that there could be one or two cases that may require further spiritual enquiry, but is very negligible and the primary reason people get mental problem is there state of mind irrespective of location or tribe, is cancer in us different from cancer in Nigeria, if you agree is not, then why must mental patient be treated differently.

Thank once again, but I hope we look into this more closely, I will do more research too myself. Take care again. Cherios.
Re: Mental Illness In Nigeria: The Stigmatization And Ignorance.
PatrickIroegbu posted on 09-22-2011, 11:05:33 AM
@Smartomoge,

Thank you for participating in this discourse arising from Abiola's well intended article. What I have tried to do is to help tease out one important aspect of mental illness conception and practice in the African World which the author's approach removed from being the reality of what people face and should speak about in the context of therapy - namely possession.

My response to your request as in the quote below follows:

QUOTE:
Are you saying that BELIEF in possession leads to mental illness? Or the possession itself? Because the writer is right - people treat mental illness as a spiritual rather than a medical phenomenon. Please clarify. Also, can you point me in the direction of the book review you wrote?
Much appreciated.


Belief refers to what people or a group share - issues, phenomenon, experiences, etc, to be used to explain things in their society. For example, a specific group may believe that spirit is a part of their lives. Issues around them will be constructed around spirit forces which are real - sites and activities based on their lived experiences. In this case it matters to have realities around spirit forces established and managed.

Possession is critical and experiential. It must be noticed and reacted to. One has to be possessed - and the symptoms of possession by a particular spirit force such as 'mami wota' follow an established pattern and the pattern is believed in and worked with to manage care of the affected person; that is, the possessed victim. It is not the belief in possession that leads to mental illness. Possession is causal, namely it is a diagnosis for mental disturbance which is believed in as a problem that must not be ignored.

The book review

The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology: Ogbuide of Oguta Lake
In the Context of Ambivalent Feminism, Empowerment and Mami Wota Phenomenon

Reviewed by Patrick Iroegbu

The Water Goddess in Igbo Cosmology: Ogbuide of Oguta Lake by Sabine Jell-Bahlsen. Publisher: Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2008. 25 chapters, xiv + 433 pages. The book provides photographs, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, and index. And it is priced at $34.95 (paper back). It can be obtained through internet major distributors such as www.amazon.com

Abstract:

After searching literature to speak to the issue of extra-somatic empowerment and women, I settled on the work of Sabine Jell-Bahlsen. It is a book which shows that no simple way exists to grapple with the complex relationship cultures share and go with the spirit world. This is challenging when women are specifically associated with the spirit phenomenon, namely mami wota. A study of women and mami wota in Igbo cosmology reveals the power and influence of the queen water deity in the everyday reality of Oguta group. Being a female in the area is directly a part of embracing the water goddess or her allies. It can be argued that understanding feminism in this culture is critical to understanding the ambivalent relationship defined by mami wota. Empowerment of women need to be viewed as a complex issue following different roles emerging from embracing the mami wota cult as much as it entails a lot in the identity, sex and gender struggle aimed to foster the cosmological equilibrium.

You can also refer to this book review in www.kwenu.com and in this book chapter The Kpim of Feminism: Issues and Women in a Changing World (2010). in www.amazon.com
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