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Mental illness in Nigeria Fellow Nigerians, denying that depression exists is slowly killing us

Until we wake up and acknowledge these problems, young men and women will continue to take their own lives.

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Raise your hands if you watched Crime Fighters growing up. I did. Somehow, even before I fully appreciated the full extent of what those guys did, there was something that felt good about seeing armed robbers, kidnappers and petty thieves cower under the glare of the camera; their guns and assorted charms looking like they had lost their self-esteem.

It was, also, where I first learnt that in Nigeria, the devil is responsible for everything. Every Sunday, there was a good chance someone would say 'Oga, na devil work', 'Na Satan push me' or some other variant of charges levelled against the ruler of the underworld (insert evil laugh here).

play Crime Fighters was a syndicated show on local Nigerian television (Information Nigeria)

In 2012, in the latter stages of a very private battle with addiction, I plunged into a brief and relatively intense low point. One minute, I was chatty, my regular random self: the next, I was in my head, suicidal at times. With help from a friend, I used online tests at healthyplace.com and psychcentral.com that diagnosed me with acute depression.

Big English, Scary words; so I decided to talk to the one person who would understand. My mother. She, who understands when I take pointless cross-country trips, who gets my unusual band of friends, who will get her own show when I get my first TV station. Her first response was something along the lines of "Shut up, stop wishing yourself evil". I almost went looking for my birth certificate.

You see, Nigeria is not a place for the faint-hearted. Sure, there are a million ways to die in the West; here, there are 4 million ways to die and roughly, 2000 ways to go insane unexpectedly.

You can get it all in a second and lose all you worked for in a minute. That, perhaps, is why we are more interested in the tangible than the not-so-tangible, the things we readily see, like money, bomb sites and bags of rice. We don't have time for American diseases.

On Tuesday, January 3, 2017, 19-year-old Verishima Unokyur took his own life in the apartment he shared with his mother and brother in the Mafoluku area of Oshodi, Lagos. His brother, Asor, was on his way to let his mother in from a vigil when he found his body “dangling like a pendulum from where he hanged himself”.

Verishima was everything you would not expect a troubled kid to be; at the time of his death, he was a student of Social Work at the highbrow Babcock University. The principal of Bosworth College, the secondary school he attended, described him as coming from a “... financially comfortable home...”.

Unfortunately, good finances and suicidal urges are not mutually exclusive.

  play Verishima Unokyur was a 19 year old student of Babcock University (Pulse)

The signs were there; on the night before his suicide, Verishima sent a message to his best friend, wishing him a happy new year. At the end of that message, he wrote ‘...see you in heaven’. According to Punch, he had been telling his mother that he had a feeling that he would die; she had taken him to church for prayers.

It’s easy to blame Mrs Unokyur for seeking spiritual help when she could easily have given him a listening ear, talked to him, or made him see a therapist. The truth is that the option she chose was the one she saw as most valid, most potent; she saw whiffs of a problem she did not understand and she called on the only solution she knew.

Her choice was questionable, maybe even deplorable, but it is the same choice many of our mothers would have made. The same choice they make when they are confronted with issues like Verishima’s.

ALSO READ: Why did a brilliant 19-year-old Verishima Unokyur take his own life?

We live in a country where anything that does not give you a headache, make you throw up, increase your blood pressure or put you in the hospital with water making its way into your system is not an illness.

You can't possibly be homophobic if you're averse to human contact, you're just proud... or abnormal, and what on earth is dyslexia? If you don't 'know book', you don't know. Simple.

Bipolar disorder is big English. If anybody feels like two different people, then the other person is an evil spirit, blame Satan. Pray.

Our general ignorance of psychological issues is most evident in the way we treat addiction; as a mixture of greed and laziness. The civil servant who 'needs' gin shots during office breaks and gives a chunk of his monthly salary to Nigerian Breweries after hours is not sick; its just ojukokoro or maybe he likes flexing too much. And God forbid you try to justify suicide. That, right there, is the devil at his destructive best.

The full range of any psychological distress in the average Nigerian's eyes begins and ends with insanity (Even then, there is a 60% chance that 'o lowo aye ninu' (Unseen terrestrial forces, fondly referred to as 'Aye' have a hand in the matter).

It was the origin of my reluctance to share the news of my 'situation': speaking from experience, when your closest friends ask what you have to get worried about, they're telling you in the nicest way possible that you are Nigerian, we don't get depressed. Anyone else could well call you insane.

The fact that we do not acknowledge this issue does not mean it will magically fade away, and therein lies a big problem, so as more pastors pray for kids who should be seeing psychiatrists and more families neglect to support those who need it the most, more kids will take their own lives, and more able-bodied men will fight asocial urges, until they lose and slide into the backwaters of society.

All these because of problems we can solve, if we just admit they are there, taking our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, one at a time, right before our myopic eyes.

Sometimes I almost pity the devil; you can only wonder how many life sentences he would serve if he could be nabbed.

P.S: If you find that you or anyone you know is dealing with any form of depression, addiction, psychological distress or symptoms of bad mental health, please use the tests at healthyplace.com and psychcentral.com. You should also reach out to the guys at mentallyaware.com via contact@mentallyaware.org or +2348060101157.

I would provide you with the Nigerian mental health helpline but there isn't one.

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