It’s not funny that in Nigeria, whenever someone mentions “mental illness” we have an already-prejudiced pool of opinions and an applauded misconception of what mental illness is. The umbrella tag we give it is “madness”, and you say after all madness na madness. Some believe it is a result of drug abuse so the Igbos would say-Igbo gbakara isi (Marijuana made him run mad)or they will say it’s jazz (voodoo) or even spiritual.
This negative image of mental illness goes hand in hand with stigma since many Nigerians probably believe ‘madness’ is some sort of repercussion from an evil act, or the after effect of an action generally condemned. Consequently, because of the already slurred image of such conditions there is no quality cure or help provided for these “mad” people, as most of them are left to roam the streets, while the ‘lucky’ ones are often times chained or taken to prayer houses.
It doesn’t just end there; this deeply ingrained stigma is also evident in the corporate world. The worst thing you’ll ever do to yourself as a job seeker is to acknowledge that you have Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder or any other mental illness on your CV or even say it with your mouth during an interview, most employers will never employ you even if you are the most qualified candidate for the job. This is because many people believe that such people are unstable, violent, and often deluded.
In the usual ‘Nigerian’ way of jointly shaming things we don’t understand look bad, people who have mental illness also subscribe to this mindset and believe that whatever is happening to them is bad since his/her society labels it as bad. They lose their dignity and self-confidence, and sometimes commit suicide.
Also, we bring our myopic sensibilities and gender bias into the realm of mental illness. When a man is prone to violence or aggressive, we offer excuses that he has temper issues, or even just being a man. But when it’s a woman, she is termed a Karashika, a witch or something worse.
And when a child is suicidal, anorexic or has ADHD, we always attribute it to demonic forces, or even our enemies. You drag the child to churches and further frustrate the hell out of him or her with the numerous deliverance sessions soon to follow.
The stereotypes, the prejudice, the misconception, and the discrimination of people living with mental illnesses will never offer solution; rather would only alienate such people or worsen the case. These people need quality care, support, and love. They are often caught between struggling to survive whatever hell they are currently facing and the temptation to end everything, so they don’t need your tags and the shaming.
For the employers, people with mental illness are not faulty, neither are they burdens. They can function perfectly; you should even give them credit for how they excellently manage their wayward emotions and still efficiently do the jobs you give them.