Untold suffering due to ignorance about mental disorders

Aliu is a 28-year-old chemical engineer with an oil and gas company and is a high-flyer, having bagged a first-class from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is well respected and is a rising star. But he battles with low self-esteem, bouts of anxiety and panic attacks and is often plagued with worries that he may be found out as not good enough. He recently fell into a bout of depression and has been feeling very miserable, sleeping poorly and is generally unmotivated.

These days, he struggles to get out of bed and show up at work. He is not sure if he can talk to anyone at work or if his family will understand how he is feeling. In any case, he fears that they will look at him as a weakling and it may hinder his chances of career progression if they think he is not strong enough for responsibilities. He does not really understand what is happening to him and he is not sure of how or who can help him. I will just keep managing, he resolved to himself, as he stared blankly at the screen of his laptop.

Tinu is a 31-year-old mother of a six-year-old boy, Dele, who is always restless and cannot simply sit in one place for 10 seconds. She is always worn out from chasing after him. He is very impulsive and highly distractible and cannot settle down to do assignments or complete any task. She initially thought he was just hyperactive as a boy, but her second son who is now four years old is much calmer and organised. Dele’s teachers also complain about his restlessness in school and tendency to disrupt class and disturb other students. She is at her wit’s end and she fears something is not right with him.


The biggest barriers to accessing mental health care services remain ignorance – about what is happening and where and how to get help. This is closely followed by shame, stigma, and supernatural beliefs that the challenges are spiritual and not medical.

In the case of Aliu above, it was the shame and fear of stigma and future discrimination at work that held him back from seeking help and sharing his challenges. Dele’s father on the other hand assumed that mental health challenges meant someone was ‘mad’ and took umbrage at that insinuation about his son. The resultant huge suffering and misery in these scenarios represents the costly price that our society continues to pay for our ignorance.

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