For Us By Us: Life as a young, neurodivergent Nigerian
As we all know, conversations surrounding mental health are far from an accurate representation of what actually is. Given society’s codes and cultural beleifs, there is heavy stigma against people who are living with mental disabilities, especially when it comes to the point of needing and seeking help. According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people is dealing with a different mental health issue, however, access to the right psychological and medical care is not easily obtainable for these people.
In a country with an estimated population of over 200 million people, these figures are steep when you also take into consideration the dearth of medical facilities focusing on the mental health and psychological needs of patients. According to reports, there are only eight federal neuropsychiatric hospitals in the country which are severely underfunded, understaffed, and inadequately managed to treat the country’s neurodivergent citizens.
Are #mentalhealth issues a weakness or an illness?
Most people with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives, which is why people may think it is the former.
Learn more below 👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/v3Z2eTGZeV
— Nigeria Health Watch (@nighealthwatch) May 8, 2021
This is dangerous for those who live with this reality, as untreated illnesses are more likely than not to worsen and aggravate over time, leaving many people vulnerable to the harsh realities of navigating a neurotypical world whilst neurodivergent. For many young people, it can take years before they receive any substantial mental health diagnosis, which could either be due to their own fear of what’s going on with them, or a fear to share e their struggles with a world that constantly chooses to misunderstand them.
That’s why this Mental Health Awareness Week, we are fostering and encouraging the difficult conversations about our struggles with mental health to make it easier for ourselves and those closest to us to heal holistically. One member of our community admits that she was ashamed of her mental illness for so long because it made her feel weak especially in comparison with her mother who society had labelled strong. However, she kept spiraling and working through countless depressive episodes before plucking up the courage to seek out help from those closest to her. Like many of her peers, she had used unhealthy avoidance tactics to temporarily solve the problem, which didn’t gain desired effect. So rather than speculate and guess, we decided to hear directly from the people within our community, and they’ve kindy shared what it’s really like to be living with a mental illness in a country like Nigeria.
With the new Lagos state tele-therapy services called ‘The Lagos Helpline’ being rolled out in the past week, we decided to speak to 5 young Nigerians about their experiences living with mental health disabilities in Lagos.
I have been diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder for about 10 years now. In 2011 when I was 17, I had my first depressive episode, and I’ve been on this journey since then. My symptoms have existed for long before I was diagnosed, pretty much for as long as I’ve known myself, but I didn’t have the correct language to express how I felt. It took me a while to open up fully about what was going on with me, because it took me a while to accept it myself. I’m only starting to see the beauty in the way my mind works and seeing that rather than something that holds me back, it gives me a unique perspective. I haven’t always welcomed that unique perspective, and society, in general, doesn’t welcome anything that’s divergent from the norm, so I lived in a constant battle for a few years.
D, 26, F.