Mental health nonprofits are using social media to close the treatment gap in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s continuing problem with brutal violence inflicted across the country (and neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon) by the terrorist group Boko Haram is causing mental health problems to rise, compounded by the government’s unwillingness to adequately fund mental health services in the country. A new report in The Week examines the issue in-depth.
For a decade now, Boko Haram, also known as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, has terrorized innocent Nigerians. The group is said to be responsible for killing more than 20,000 people and displacing more than 2 million since 2009. The group has abducted at least 8,000 children and teenagers, forcing them to join the fight or be killed.
Boko Haram’s violent campaign has left countless Nigerians in need of mental health care to deal with the trauma of it all, but as The Week reported, the government has little interest in improving mental health care.
Stigma is also a barrier to adequate care.
“Nigerians still don’t see things like depression as illnesses… A lot of Nigerians would rather listen to their pastor or imam than a doctor,” said Emeka Iregbulem, a psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in the city of Enugu.
Nonprofits Address Treatment Gap
NGOs like the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) are left to address the treatment gap across Nigeria with little support.
MANI, one of the few non-profits in Nigeria tackling mental health, in addition to deploying mental health providers to villages on kekes (motorized tricycle), is also utilizing social media to reach more Nigerians.
With over 100 million Nigerians online, social media or messaging services like Twitter and Whatsapp offer some relief to those who may not otherwise address underlying trauma and depression.
“We have counselors available around the clock to act as first responders when Nigerians need help,” said Rasheedat Olarinoye, a project manager with MANI. “Our counselors are volunteer psychiatrists and medical officers that are, a lot of times, the thin line between life and death.”
Mowunmi Olanrewaju, a 26-year-old development worker in Lagos, received counseling from a MANI psychologist through Twitter direct messaging. She was dealing with depression and loneliness, but had not been able to afford regular counseling sessions.
Olanrewaju said that receiving therapy through Twitter made a world of difference. “In the past, I imagined I would just get it over with (suicide), but now, I have seen enough of the pain and what it does to the people around you,” she said.