Mazeed Mukhtar Oyeleye writes,

Nothing unsettles Nigerians more than broaching “depression” and the usage of other words which appertain the register of mental health. A plethora of feuds erupt between two individuals because one of them recommends seeking mental healthcare to the other. Despite the prevalent loathe for mental health as a discourse in Nigeria, the cruciality of such a subject cannot be over-emphasized. There is no hyperbole in stating that mental health is the doorway through which general health is accessible. The overall health of a person is only a façade of his state of mind. It also translates into his actions and articulations, which will always have implications. It is, therefore, a colossal irony that we neglect our wellbeing lest our society may brand us with the label of insanity and consequently mistreat, stigmatize and alienate us.

Mental health, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally, that is characterized by the absence of mental illness, and by adequate adjustment, especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life,” or “the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state.” Given both definitions, one can infer correctly that mental health is a basis for attaining overall wellness. It is an entitlement of every member of any progressive society as enshrined, by extension, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, it shocks to the marrow to learn that Nigerians find it much more comfortable to disclose their HIV status, or that they tested positive to chronic ailments, than discuss their visit to a mental health expert. Such a trend indicates that our epistemic verdure has no place in our priority list as a people. We dread being objects of stigma as such attached to being known to have a psychological imbalance. The currency of this is credulous, considering that many baseless opinions survived our forefathers and threaten to outlive us. These primitive ideas have warped our mentality, thus justifying the popular view of people battling mental issues and their families with cynical eyes.

Our forefathers believed that a mental disorder is an ailment that defies the power of curative efforts, feeling that fragments of the malady would remain dominant in the lives of the sufferers. We have inherited the same dogma, which makes us eschew the credibility of people who wish to vie for public positions because they have a mental imbalance history. We have further modified this heirloom with ridiculous addenda, one of which is the philosophy that mental imbalances are contagious and hereditary, thus letting our relationships kowtow to failure, hence wrecking our families. The implications of our refusal to accept that psychological infirmities are natural and inevitable tower our fears of the social rejection and disparage we can encounter for being labelled as; one, a relative, an acquaintance, or the partner of one who has a history bedecked with phases of mental imbalance.

Our clime will abound with poignant narratives of people who escape their emotional throes by traversing the infamous bridge of suicide because they cannot seek the help they badly need, until we rid it of the egregious notions we harbour against mental issues and related healthcare. We will lose more loved ones than records can hold, until we make conscious efforts to rejuvenate our society to accommodate and benignantly care for people with slight psychological trauma and others with full-blown mental disorders. We can only achieve this by reforming our mindsets and revitalizing our milieu with proper awareness on the dangers of letting shame and fear of stigma bereave us of our only ticket out of depression and emotional frays before they aggravate; how we can attain mental equilibrium through believing in the essentiality of seeking mental healthcare. This juncture is where mental health literacy rears her beautiful face.

Literacy, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “knowledge that relates to a specified subject.” We can thus extrapolate that mental health literacy is the “knowledge that pertains to the realization of mental and emotional soundness, which is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment; especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life.” If we must rejuvenate our communities to exhibit a saner reception of people with psychological infirmities, mental health literacy is the most vital equipment to that effect. It is the knowledge that should be accessible to people on all rungs of the social ladder. It is the genie of change, which must overrun our country and possess our people, especially the teeming youthful population.

Every societal revolution must begin with a personal resolution to bring about the much-desired change. The lot falls on the youthful generation who make up a boxcar chunk of the Nigerian population to set the pace. As students, and in the same vein, youths, we must discuss mental health without shame or fear of the reaction of the older generation. Creating proper awareness and providing detailed explanations of what mental health entails, by unearthing its causes, assessing the extent of respective disorders, discussing curative panaceas and proper ways of relating with afflicted people, we will convince the older generation to abandon their agelong philosophies or force them to do so in concurrence with the “if you cannot beat them, then join them,” maxim.

We have to revisit the root of mental issues and admit our faults as a population: How we (especially the youth) push others into depression, and consequent mental imbalance, through body-shaming, negative stereotyping, social discrimination, false accusations, physical and virtual (social-media) bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and failed relationships, marriages and ventures. We must assess these issues and identify what we could have done differently to avoid such hapless occurrences or what we ought not to do as well-meaning citizens of the greatest black nation. Then we must desist from such dastardly acts and embrace healthier ways of interaction, discussion and coexistence. However, in adverse cases of overwhelming academic or social pressure, and relationships reaching their breaking point, we should seek mental healthcare to cushion the effects of such unfortunate phenomena.

Looking at the #EndSARS protests, it is worthy of note that we can dictate how our leaders govern us. This development bodes well for mental health in Nigeria if and when we are ready to utilize our youthful exuberance to that effect. Lending our voice for the cause, already championed by mental health NGOs which include ‘Asido’, ‘Gede’, ‘Love, Peace and Mental health’, ‘Neem’ and ‘Nightingale’ Foundations, ‘Mentally Aware Nigeria (MAN)’ and ‘She Writes Woman’ initiatives, we can come together to speed up the revision of the Nigerian mental health bill which has suffered stagnation for seventeen years since its acclaimed second reading at the national assembly. The achievement of such an end would spell the exponential growth of mental health awareness in the country. It would also spur the government and well-meaning individuals and organizations to pay special attention to the development of the mental health sector in concurrence with the physical health sector.

As youths, we have to pan the challenges threatening mental health in Nigeria for our government to acquiesce and take full responsibility for its advancement, spurring them into setting up ultramodern facilities with skilled personnel to provide quality services, available at more pocket-friendly rates than applies to other ailments. The success of this will reduce the workload of NGOs presently undertaking the job of the government voluntarily. We must also work on our personal and collective self-esteem by believing in the efficacy of mental healthcare and never being ashamed to seek the help of experts when need be. Considering it an encouragement to others, we should learn to share stories of our journey to mental equilibrium and encourage others to follow suit without fear of stigma.

Finally, we must criminalize inhumane and abusive treatment of psychologically challenged individuals to stop such hideous acts in our society. We have to reconsider social media as a tool for effecting changes in our clime, and not a street where we drag our perceived foes and innocent people. Hence, we must shun bullying online and other fraudulent activities to prevent mental disorders from occurring. In the same vein, we should give backing and canvass for people to support folks struggling to achieve mental equilibrium. To harbinger reform and positive change, one has to begin with himself. Time is nigh for youths to speak out, for mental health to gain ground in Nigeria.

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