Aderonke Bello, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The most unholy act was committed on a holy day. Mary was a bubbly seven-year-old girl when her two eyes were plucked out by an aunt on a Holy Thursday at a time people were preparing for the Easter weekend – 18 years ago.  

Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, the legal practitioner currently working in a law firm said, “My aunt pulled me by my hair. Needless to say that I was petrified. She then put me in between her legs, she held me down and started poking her fingers into my eyes until both eyeballs fell on my cheeks. They suspended on my cheeks, there was just one tiny nerve or something that was holding the eyes to my eye sockets. I was bleeding profusely and when she was done she left me in my pool of blood, I heard later that she stripped and went outside.”


Mental Illness in Nigeria

Research carried out by this paper has revealed that mental illness is on the rise in Nigeria, with a higher rate among young adults. Some of the causes are inherited genes, substance abuse and environmental factors.

Ms Ogbonnaya Ndupu, a Consultant Psychiatrist with Lifecrest Medical Services, said a lot of Nigerians are going through trauma which is leading to mental illness.

“There is a lot of violence in this country, a lot of people are displaced as a result of natural disasters but we know that any kind of trauma could increase the chance of mental illness,” she said on the Arise News breakfast programme, Morning Show on October 10, 2018.

She continued, “Young people are also victims, poverty, unemployment, violence that is ongoing all that just add to the stress and exposes them to mental disorder.”

Findings revealed that depression is the most common mental illness in Nigeria followed by Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder which if left unattended to could lead to suicide, self-harm, violence and anti-social behaviour.

A research carried out by Suleiman Dauda, a lecturer at the Department of Pathology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Kaduna State for, says 20-30% Nigerians live with mental illnesses.

“In Nigeria, an estimated 20%–30% of our population are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish,” the report said.

Victims of violence

Like Mary, many people have had their unfair share of the violence that comes with mental illness most especially loved ones, caregivers and others.

Sometime ago in Ibadan, it was reported that a passer-by was hacked to death with a machete by a wandering and aggressive patient.

There is a rise in violent attacks by people suffering from mental illness. A research by Sunday Sun shows this is common with the ones engaged in substance abuse. In August 2018, a patient killed his neighbour with a machete in Ondo state while another patient in Ogun state hacked two school pupils to death.

“My clothes were torn by a patient undergoing healings at a white garment church in a remote area in Ikorodu Lagos state. I didn’t know he was there for treatment when I went to visit my Evangelist, this woman came from behind and bit my arm, it took some lashes from people around to make her stop,” Bayo Ariyo tells Sunday Sun.

Patients could not be persecuted because insanity is a defence in law.


There are many factors that could make someone take his/her own life. Chemical imbalance and depression top the list.

A research carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that suicide rate for women has decreased in Nigeria and increased in men between the year 2000 and 2016.

The estranged husband of Tiwa Savage, Tunde Balogun, once attempted suicide, and he later on revealed his long battle with depression.

A medical doctor identified as Dr. Mbakwe committed suicide after he reportedly shot himself with a gun at his Aba home in 2017. He was reported to have been sick for over thirty years. Another woman suspected to be depressed committed suicide on October 9, 2018 in Ghana following the closure of her shop by Ghanaian authorities. Beliefs in Nigeria are that anyone who commits suicide is either suffering from witchcraft attacks or belongs to a secret cult.

Attempted Suicides

Some patients who have attempted suicide in Nigeria spoke to Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative, a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).

“My name is Mayowa, I have attempted suicide when I was 13, it all started when I was really young, I was bullied a lot and was made fun of in primary and secondary school, I drank rat poison,  but my mother saw me and I was rushed to the hospital,” he says.

Tinuke who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety said she wanted to get rid of her pain with suicide.

“When I wanted to commit suicide I thought of putting together the painkillers, antibiotics and I thought of drinking it.”

Tiwa says she had attempted suicide three times because she was abused growing up, she was diagnosed of Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I was actually going to drink a bottle of cleanser and my mate walked into the room and that’s what stopped me, the second time I had written a paper and was about to take pills,” she said.

Mental Illness patients

While some are fortunate to recognise their illnesses, hundreds of patients wander about naked and dirty in major Nigerian cities such as Port Harcourt, Abeokuta, Abakaliki, Kano, Jos and Lagos.

“Ignorance is a problem. If people know what it is, they will seek better healthcare for their mental health. I went to a doctor and I got diagnosed and I started treatment and I live a very healthy life, sometimes there are moodiness, I suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD), and I have epilepsy too but they don’t happen anymore because I am on steady medication and my moods are always controlled,” Ngozi Samuel (not real name) told Sunday Sun.

Joey Akan who has lived with depression says he battled and survived chronic depression.

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“I have battled chronic depression, I was so unhappy overcome by unhappiness my thoughts were sad it’s like standing on the land but you are drowning nothing makes sense and you become bitter.”

Government reacts

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Ministry for Health in Nigeria does not have any record and data on Mental Health.

Speaking on Mental Health in Nigeria, the Minister of Health, Dr. Isaac Adewole, told Sunday Sun that government is working on it, asking that patients should seek solace in God.

Mental illness

“Government is working on mental policy but is a job for everybody. There is need for pre-marital counselling, people should not rush into marriage, and people should understand each other very well.

“You need to understand another thing; people are going through a lot of stress, unemployment challenges and so on. This is going to force people into reacting badly. But overall, I think we should take solace in God and hope for a better deal.”

There are few government-owned mental institutions in Nigeria where 35% percent of the population suffer from mental illness.

The Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Centre, Kwara

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Uselu, Benin

Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Calabar

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Enugu

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Kaduna

Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Maiduguri

State Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Awka, Anambra

Psychiatric Hospital, Eket, Akwa Ibom

Psychiatric Hospital, Sokoto

Kano State Psychiatric Hospital, Kano

Psychiatric Hospital, Abia

However, spiritual homes abuse patients by beating them regularly, chaining them to the wall, left dirty and unwashed, unfed and tortured in a bid to chase out the so-called demons in them.

Possible causes

Many patients cannot say exactly how they got sick. Young people fall for peer pressure, substance abuse, financial meltdown, disappointments, trauma, debts, genes, chemical imbalance and many more, are factors that could to the illness.

“Some people even suffer trauma as adults. Look at people in Maiduguri, some people have seen things that no human being should ever have to see, and they have to deal with all of that. And that’s why you see, even with soldiers, sometimes you see some of them come down with PTSD and things like that. So, yes, there’s nature but also nurtured to the social environment. Lately, there was almost like a financial downturn, its recession here in Nigeria. So, a lot of people lost money or lost their jobs,” Dr Adebimpe Alder of Melville reacts on possible factors that contribute to mental illness.

Blind lawyer

Ways forward

“We need to create awareness with community based intervention, we need to begin to talk about mental health at school level and learn not to stigmatise them and to also get patients to open up,” Ms Ndupu said.

Ngozi Samuel a mental health patient says, “We need implementation of already existing policies in work places that protects the people with any kind of illness including mental health and also for patients to take their medications regularly.”

With the Health Minister believe that patients should seek God for help, it is unclear if mental health patients will be taken for medical care or to spiritual homes.

Mary Musa who seems to have forgiven her Aunt is one of several victims of the violent mentally ill patients. This could continue due to the lack of proper diagnosis and awareness in Nigeria.

“You know, it wasn’t easy to forgive somebody who had wilfully hurt you and doesn’t even show some form of remorse. She was later diagnosed of Manic Depression and Schizophrenia. Till date, I don’t remember her telling me that she is sorry but I don’t have it against her anymore, I have forgiven her,” Mary Musa concludes.

This report was made possible with the support of Code for Africa