Experts always recommend seeking professional help for your mental health concerns on time. But people living in conservative societies like Nigeria and other parts of Africa mostly shy away from discussing their mental health concerns, not to mention going to see a doctor. Lack of information is also a major problem as there are still many who yet do not understand that mental health disorders are a natural thing.
In a village in Nigeria, it is believed that angry deities strike people with insanity as punishment for a sin they’ve committed. They are also symptoms of recognized mental illnesses that are attributed to spiritual possession. For instance, it is said that marine spirits could cause a new mom to be sad and refuse to have anything to do with her baby. Many of them who hold this belief did not know that there is something called postpartum depression that affects new moms. There are many other mental health signs that are immediately dismissed with one mythical story or another.
There are also a group of people who hold a generally negative opinion about the work of psychiatrists. This article by BetterHelp.com explains “anti-psychiatrists” in more detail.
Here are five known reasons Nigerians rarely seek psychiatric care:
1. The culture of stigmatization surrounding mental health illnesses
Even though there are numerous mental health disorders sufferers can seek treatment for, a lot of people will never agree to visit a psychiatrist for the sole reason of avoiding being labelled “crazy” or “insane” or “abnormal.” It remains hard to discuss mental health concerns in places like Nigeria as any slightest talk about having a problem with your brain or mind could easily become associated with madness or insanity. It won’t be long before the victim becomes the subject of the town’s gossip. For fear of situations like this, a lot of people will never agree to visit a psychiatrist for their mental health concerns.
2. Lack of access to good mental health facilities
The field of psychiatry is not yet as developed in Nigeria as in some parts of the Western world. Not many hospitals in Nigeria have well-equipped psychiatry departments. Equipped in the sense of personnel and facilities. The most you get at many government-owned clinics is a counsellor whose scope of experience hardly goes outside counselling for HIV and presurgical counseling.
3. Money problems
Due to the low number of good and available mental health facilities in the country, the few ones that are functional are often too expensive for the average Nigerian to afford. The high cost of getting professional psychiatric treatment often push low income earners to seek alternative treatments for their mental health issues. Some of these alternative therapies include spiritual consultations, sacrifices and other kinds of worship. Others also abandon seeking treatment for their mental illness altogether. Studies have shown that mental health conditions can get more serious if left untreated.
Not many people have the time to visit the psychiatry clinic, survive long hospital queues and attend weeking psychotherapy sessions with the doctor. A lot of the people living in Lagos – possibly the busiest city in the whole of Africa – do not get enough time to attend to most of life’s daily activities, so to this group of people, finding time to visit a psychiatrist or to sit long hours on every psychotherapy appointment could prove too difficult. This is exactly where online counselling becomes especially important. Virtual therapy offers more flexible sessions and appointments can be designed to suit an individual patient’s time and availability.
5. Lack of adequate information
There are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding the field of psychiatry and psychiatric treatments and care in general. There are some who believe that psychiatry is not an actual field of medicine and that the treatments do not work. This set holds the belief that psychiatric treatments and care or the so-called therapy sessions are only designed to extort money from people.
Another set of people believe that seeking psychiatric care is for the rich alone, or for westerners. You might have heard a Nigerian say this in the local language: “What concerns a poor man with going to the hospital to treat anxiety?” Some mental health conditions are termed “rich people’s disease” or “white man’s disease.”
A few others also believe that psychiatric care and treatment is only for people who have been certified crazy. To this group, only people who are “mad” need to visit a psychiatrist. Sadly, this set of opinions deter sufferers from recognizing their condition and opting to go for treatment.