I liked it better when I didn’t know your name. When you were on the border between real and unreal. I liked it better when I couldn’t identify you. When I didn’t understand what you were or what you were doing to me.
You were more forgettable that way. You were just a glitch in the simulation that is my world.
But now that I know your name and I know you are real? You’ve become stronger. It’s like your name makes you real and more powerful. Now, you linger. Now you exist and I have to tackle you. I can’t run anymore. I’d have to fight.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety and panic disorders since I was a child. But I never knew I did. I just felt that it was part of my behavioural pattern. I never knew it had a name and a reason and an explanation. I’m older now and I know the names of my ailments. I know how to go about seeking help. My problems are worse now because I’m an adult and so by default, so are my anxiety and panic attacks.
They are real. So real. When I wake up with shakes, a racing heart and the feeling that I’m about to die, I know what’s wrong. I’m having a panic attack. Does that help me calm down? No. Times when I get racing bad thoughts for no reason and I feel detached from myself I know what it means. I know its name now. Living everyday becomes a difficult chore that I have to overcome every day. But I’m living. It’s difficult, but I’m doing it.
Above all, the worst part of living with a mental illness is having to pretend like you’re not. So, the people around you can feel okay. Even the ones that know your medical history still expect you to pretend like you don’t have one. It’s exhausting. It’s draining.
Nigeria, the seventh-largest country in the world, has Africa’s highest caseload of depression, and ranks 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide, according to WHO. There are less than 150 psychiatrists in this country of 200 million, and WHO estimates that fewer than 10 percent of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need. This shows that the country is extremely ill-equipped to handle the mental health crises currently burdening the country. Not to mention the impending health crises due to the effects of Covid-19.
Accompanying the severe lack of healthcare and medical services, the stigma and the general societal attitude concerning mental health in the country is disheartening. You can’t even run to the law for help in Nigeria. According to Section 327 of the Criminal Code Act, attempted suicide is a crime that can land you in prison for a full year. Imagine being depressed to that point and then finding out you have to be in jail for a whole year?
That has been the reality for many Nigerians which is all the more reason why people prefer to treat their mental illnesses in isolation.
This begs the question; what happens to those at the grassroots and below who cannot afford to diagnose or even treat their illnesses? The ones whose deaths don’t matter in the country. How can they get access to help?
What of the young adults? Those navigating the beginning of adulthood and on their own? Will we wait until we hear of many more fatal, tragic stories? Or will we take this fight up as our own and change the narrative?
By Amina Nuhu