Aliu is a 28-year-old Chemical Engineer with an Oil and Gas company and is a high-flying star, having
bagged a first-class from ABU Zaria. He is well respected and is a rising star. But he battles with low self-
esteem, bouts of anxiety and panic attacks and is often plagued with worries that he may be found out
as not good enough. He recently fell into a bout of depression and has been feeling very miserable,
sleeping poorly and is generally unmotivated.
These days, he struggles to get out of bed and show up at work. He is not sure if he can talk to anyone at
work or if his family will understand how he is feeling. In any case he fears that they will look at him as a
weakling and it may hinder his chances of career progression if they think he is not strong enough for
responsibilities. He does not really understand what is happening to him and he is not sure of how or
who can help him. I will just keep managing, he resolved to himself, as he stared blankly at the screen of
Tinu is a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old boy Dele, who is always restless and cannot simply sit in one
place for 10 seconds. She is always worn out from chasing after him. He is very impulsive and highly
distractible and cannot simply sit down to do assignments or complete any task. She initially thought he
was just hyperactive as a boy, but her second son who is now 4 years old is much calmer and organized.
Dele’s teachers also complain about his restlessness in school and tendency to disrupt class and disturb
other students. She is at her wits end and she fears something is not right with him.
However, her husband is adamant that his son is okay and that he was also very restless as a child. He
refused to contemplate taking Dele to see a child mental health professional. When the schoolteacher
first suggested it to them, he became really angry and stormed out of the meeting. How can they dare
suggest that his son had a mental health challenge? Does his son look ‘mad’ to them? They were the
ones that were mad and nothing was wrong with his son. The following day he withdrew Dele from the
school and enrolled him elsewhere. His wife sat alone in her office that day and cried silently. She knew
her son was not really okay and wanted him to have an assessment, but his father will not hear of it.
What can she do?
Akpan is an 18-year-old law student who started hearing voices commenting on everything he was
doing and sometimes commanding him to do certain things. The voices often told him that everyone in
the world hated him and were always gossiping about how to kill him. He became really scared and
stopped going to class as it would appear like everyone was looking at him strangely and the voices will
provide scary commentary of what was going on. He could not believe that his room mates and friends
could not hear the voices too. He stopped eating and could barely sleep at night. How he wished he
could get rid of the voices in his head so he could know peace.
His family said he was possessed and took him out of school for deliverance from the demons plaguing
their son and preventing him from fulfilling his destiny. They went from one prayer house to another,
but the voices persisted, and he appeared to be getting worse. They didn’t know what else to do.
Furthermore, they knew it was spiritual warfare and not a medical issue, so they didn’t bother going to
the hospital. By this time, Akpan had been out of school for 2 years, and may never return to complete
his law education.
The biggest barriers to accessing mental health care services remain ignorance – about what is
happening and where and how to get help. This is closely followed by shame, stigma, and supernatural
beliefs that the challenges are spiritual and not medical. In the case of Engr Aliu above, it was the shame
and fear of stigma and future discrimination at work that held him back from seeking help and sharing
his challenges. Dele’s father on the other hand assumed that mental health challenges meant someone
was ‘mad’ and took umbrage at that insinuation about his son. Akpan’s parents took him out of school
for 2 years but refused to take him to a hospital because they were convinced it was spiritual. The
resultant huge suffering and misery in these scenarios, represents the costly price that our society
continues to pay for our ignorance.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 2nd November 2023