Reports indicate that mental health issue remains one of the major health problems embattling a relatively large portion of the Nigerian populace with the figure totalling as much as the entire population of many countries of the world. Nigeria has a population of about 200 Million people with about 20-30% percent of the same suffering from one mental health condition to another.
Sadly, in the whole country there are just 250 psychiatrists serving the 200 million people. Worse still, according to the World Health Organization estimates, only about three percent of the health budget goes into mental health; hence making the psychiatrists treatments very expensive; with so many patients being left with no other choice than to turn to the traditional healers.
Traditional and spiritual healers deliver the bulk of mental health services in Nigeria. However, these homes abuse patients by beating them regularly, chaining them, shackling them, Larshing them, left dirty and unwashed, unfed and tortured, burnings and raping them in a bit to chase out the so called demons in them.
These inhuman treatments and abuses of the rights of the mentally ill in the hands of the unauthodox healers is widely spread accross the whole country with no exception to a tribe or geopolitical zones. There is no traditional healing centre in Nigeria where patients are not beaten, shackled or chained and confined to a solitary place.
Many of these healers have their facilities located in the remote areas while few have theirs in the major cities.
Risks faced by the mentally ill
Persons with mental or physical disabilities often suffer from social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination. They are often accused of witchcraft and punishment may often involve severe beating, burning or stoning , naked parading, being compelled to drink lethal medicines, lynched by mob.
At the other times they are accused of rituals and the punishments for this is similar to that of witchcraft accusation. Persons accused of rituals often suffer physical violence from the angry mobs leading to severe beatings and burning to death.
The heartbreaking case of a Woman, Anuoluwapo Martins, a 36-year old psychiatric patient, who was mistaken for a ritualist and burnt to death by an irate mob in Ilesha, Osun State as reported in April 2019 is still fresh in our memory. The family members of the mentally ill are not helping matters. Many maltreat their patients and sterotype them with the belief that the illness is a consequence of attacks from the evil spirits. They thus, often force traditional treatments on their patient which involves abuse of the rights and other forms of physical abuses. The hardship of mentally ill continues to spread even up to the untold abuses suffered in the hands of Pastors who claim to engage in treating them spiritually.
The method of healing in these so called healing churches is identical to that of the traditional healers and often involves the use of compulsory fasting, beating to cast out demons, physical restraints, use of anointing oil and isolation of victims. We have numerous cases of Pastors who have sexually abused the mentally ill patients in the course of acclaimed treatment period.
Unfortunately, the Government is not doing much to address the agony being faced by these vulnerable populations, neither is there any provision of the law or enforcement that protects their rights. Due to the neglect by the Government on mental health issues, the authodox treatments remain not only inadequate but also gravely un- accessible for the patients due to huge cost.
What about the kidnapping cases of the mentally ill women for ritual purposes? With the dangerous beliefs that using of the body parts of the mentally ill brings financial fortune, the mentally disabled persons remain unfortunate targets for rituals by men of the underworld.
Except something is done urgently to address this rather ugly situation in the light of the continued economic hardship in the country and the appalling attitude of the populace towards the mentally ill in Nigeria, we will continue to express high suicide rate and untimely death of such helpless patients who could have been very resourceful citizens that would have value to the country if able to afford the required treatments and supports.