Today, I am representing She Writes Woman Mental Health Initiative. I am representing an organisation that was founded on a lived experience. Diagnosed with bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder and a near-suicide attempt, we realised crucial problems with the mental health narrative in Nigeria. She Writes Woman is a women-led movement that gives mental health a voice in Nigeria.
For over the last three years, we have gained local and international recognition normalising mental health conversations, changing the narrative around mental health, telling new stories about people living with mental health conditions and creating Safe Places young people can get support without fear or shame. The important questions are - Why do we exist? And why is our work so important in Nigeria?
The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health says that:
Over 40 million Nigerians are living with a mental health condition;
Depression will be the world's leading cause of disability by 2030
Over 60% of mental health conditions are already formed by the age of 14.
Suicide is the leading second leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 29 years.
Nigeria is the 10th most suicide prone country in Africa and the 30th in the world.
More importantly, here are some issues:
There is no mental health care at the primary healthcare level
There is 1 psychiatrist to over 1.1 million Nigerians
There are less than 12 tertiary mental health facilities in Nigeria
At She Writes Woman, we see the gap and that’s why we're about telling new stories. And through the process of telling these stories, we realised crucial problems like -
Those who knew little about it spoke the most and loudest about this topic. Other types of narratives are medically or academically inclined
The picture that comes to mind when we think "mental health" is distorted.
Stigma, ignorance and misunderstanding of mental health is perhaps the strongest reason why most Nigerians don't seek support.
These stats are scary. Very scary. How can there be only 1 psychiatrist to over 1.1 million Nigerians yet over 40 million Nigerians are living with a mental health condition? Where do all these Nigerians with mental health conditions go to?
A possible answer for some is nowhere. They go nowhere because of the stigma, ignorance and misunderstanding of mental health. Other people for the same set of reasons go to traditional healers/ religious leaders believing them or their loved ones who manifests signs and symptoms of a mental health condition have been possessed by an “evil spirit” or a “jinn”
Another widespread belief of Nigerians towards people with mental health conditions is that they are receiving divine punishment as a result of their wrongdoings.
And even if they do go somewhere and seek mental health care, the stigma and misinformation surrounding mental health conditions might not allow people to accept them as a full member of the society. They are likely to face discrimination in the workplace and the community. Stigma can even be lifelong as children and adolescents diagnosed with a condition from birth can .
So we're ensuring that -
we're empowering everyday people with mental health conditions to own their diagnosis and control their narratives,
humanising the stories behind mental health statistics is crucial to taking the picture that comes to mind and
filling the huge deficit/gap in the mental health space in Nigeria through innovative and intersection all solutions.
In the words of Brene Brown, "When we embrace our stories, we can write a brave new ending."
A wave of collective consciousness is rising in Nigerians to speak and address mental health concerns.
We're inspiring a new generation of young women (and men) to own their truths, seek support and become ambassadors of mental health.
Stigma thrives in secrecy. When we speak our truth boldly and collectively, knowing that another has our back, we put stigma to shame.
So on behalf of the entire She Writes Woman team, I invite you to join us to rethink mental health not as a concern of "those people" but a collective responsibility.
Read more about how we're giving mental health a voice in Nigeria by visiting www.shewriteswoman.org, follow us on social media @shewriteswoman and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org