Borders of sanity
Sir: Twice I met him in the canteen opposite the religious home where I venerate the Almighty Creator. One of those times, he asked me to buy him a meal. The other time he bought himself one. On both occasions he looked squiffy to me and soliloquized, staring blankly into space. Sometimes he looked at you levelly in the eyes. I knew there was something wrong, but couldn’t figure what the problem was.
Surprisingly, I saw him in the middle of the road the other day, shouting loudly. The same fellow that soliloquised quietly has honed the craft by being a full blown mad man. It was scary. Had I known what the problem was and what to do, I might have made the move to do so in the restaurant. What can Nigerians do when they see someone, a friend who is depressed, absent and withdrawn? How can Nigerians recognise the mood shift as a potential warning sign of depression? I passed through Benin, Edo State, not long ago and the number of mentally disturbed persons(some of whom are so young) that I saw was so alarming.
We have been trained to respond to emergencies at the work place, to administer CPR, wrap a wound to stop bleeding and infection; but what about mental health crises like the case mentioned above? I have yet to see a mental health first aid trainer in all of my working life. While chatting with a hard working single parent the other day, she revealed to me that there have been times she considered suicide, drugs, alcohol among other things.
We forget that anxiety, sleep disorder, economic recession, economic problems, Job availability, pressure from school and society, failed relationships, failed parenting, can cause people to move beyond the rubicon of sanity to insanity. Whilst we campaign to prevent traffic accidents, we should also focus on suicide prevention as well as preventing people from being mentally ill. Teachers should be trained in churches, mosques, work places to see people who are vulnerable, and offer them ways to seek help.
Services for depression in Australia such as ‘Beyond Blue’ has helped thousands over the decades and they offer online chat/email counseling: If they can’t help you themselves, they direct you somewhere locally. They don’t do this by praying.
We are reluctant to talk about mental illness, we wish it away and, when confronted with someone in crisis like I did, we do not know what to do. Even when research has proved that there are more cases of people suffering from mental illness than people with heart disease.
If this is so, how come we don’t know what to do other than to be paralysed by verbal incontinence? Who will teach people how they can become mental health first responders? Where are the centers in Nigeria for Mental Health training courses on, what to do in an emergency? A civilized society must help people who are hurting. What if I suffer from depression myself? Who might we call in Nigeria for support, concerns, information, or questions? Would they also be available 24 hours by phone?
Simon Abah, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.