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Stigma, Mental Health Literacy and the Nigeria Youth

Posted by at January 08, 2021 Read our previous post



Depression is a leading cause of disability and has been projected to become the 2nd most burdensome disease by the year 2020; depression has also been found to be the strongest single risk factor for attempted or completed suicides. Adolescent-onset mood disorders are frequently unrecognized or misdiagnosed and often go untreated. While there is a growing literature on the mental health literacy of adults, there has not been a parallel interest in the mental health literacy of young people in Nigeria.

Perceptions of mental illness among Nigerian adolescents

Understanding mental illness in Nigeria is something that has to be taken contextually and historically. There is a large misconception and misinformation on the context of the subject amongst Nigerians. The general belief is that preternatural or supernatural forces, witches, evil spirits and even God cause mental illness (Abasiubong et al., 2007; Akighir, 1982; Odejide & Olatawura, 1979; Kabir et al., 2004; Ogunlesi & Adelekan, 1988; Uwakwe, 2007; Adebowale & Ogunlesi, 1998).These beliefs have influenced the attitude of Nigerians towards the mentally ill. Historically, people with mental illnesses were burned, hanged, mutilated, abandoned and restrained with chains, all in the bid to save their souls, or bring redemption to their families and curb the iniquities causing mental illness within the families (Abasiubong et al., 2007; Adebowale & Ogunlesi, 1998).These beliefs on the etiology of mental illness shape attitudes and have been shown to have a huge impact on the acceptance of the mentally ill amongst Nigerians (Adewuya & Makanjuola, 2008).

The encumbers, Drivers and Impacts of Poor Mental Health in Young People of West Africa: Implications for Research and Programming

Mental disorders are a leading cause of disability in young people globally (Charlson et al., 2014; Mokdad et al., 2016). As many as 20% of the world’s young people (aged between 10 and 24 years) suffer a neuropsychiatric condition (Belfer, 2008), including common disorders like depression and anxiety, or severe forms like psychosis, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, as well as alcohol and substance dependence (Remschmidt & Belfer, 2005). Individuals suffering from these disorders have higher mortality risks than the general population (Chesney, Goodwin, & Fazel, 2014). While the onset of most mental disorders occurs during youth (age 12 to 24 years), few disorders are diagnosed or treated in this period (Remschmidt & Belfer, 2005). These conditions often persist for a long time, severely disrupting young people’s access to livelihoods, health care, and education, and exposing them to stigma, isolation, discrimination, and human rights abuses (Sartorius, 2007; Tarter, 2002; Tims et al., 2002). While mental disorders are commonly known for their impact on health and well-being, they are also associated with severe economic losses due to high cost of treatment and impaired ability to work, especially among young people (Esan, Kola, & Gureje, 2012). Inadequate documentation and characterization of young people’s mental health problems hampers planning and appropriate provision of services in most low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) (Jacob et al., 2007).

West Africa is one of the youngest subregions of the world (Izugbara et al., 2017). Nevertheless, data on young people’s mental and substance use disorders in West Africa are limited. A few studies conducted using small, nonrepresentative samples suggest a high burden of child and adolescent mental, neurological, and substance use disorders across several countries in the subregion (Abiodun, 1992; Asare & Danquah, 2016; Cortina, Sodha, Fazel, & Ramchandani, 2012; Ngasa et al., 2017; Nwagu, 2016; Tunde-Ayinmode, Adegunloye, Ayinmode, & Abiodun, 2012; World Health Organization [WHO], 2011; Yoder, Tol, Reis, & de Jong, 2016). Compared to Africa’s other subregions, West Africa is projected to experience some of the largest increases in burden of mental and substance use disorders (i.e., West Africa [129%] compared to Southern Africa [28%], East Africa [139%] and Central Africa [196%]) by 2050 (Charlson, Diminic, Lund, Degenhardt, & Whiteford, 2014), with a significant proportion occurring among young individuals (Cortina et al., 2012).


In conclusion: This essay suggest that, similar to findings elsewhere, stigmatization of mental illness is highly prevalent among Nigerian youths. This may be underpinned by lack of knowledge regarding mental health problems and/or fuelled by the media. Educational interventions and encouraging contact with mentally ill persons could play a role in reducing stigma among the Nigeria youths.


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