The month of May is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness, and every Tuesday on our Twitter page (@bellanaija), we will host mental health experts who will speak on everything mental health.
Our second guest was Hauwa Ojeifo, Voice of Mental Health and Founder of She Writes Woman @shewriteswoman, who spoke on the subject “How Insecurity is Raising Yet Another Traumatized Generation.”
There’s a lot of news on insecurity across Nigeria, how is this news affecting us?
Sadly, we have come to normalise the insecurity. If it’s not kidnapping, it’s killing, and everything in-between. What we don’t know is that as we process this information, we’re in heightened states of fear and anxiety.
On a biological level, we’re releasing more and more stress hormones into our body. This in turn causes all sorts of physical health issues – stomach discomfort, aches, pains etc.
Our bodies are responding in the typical fight or flight response. We’re not wired to take in the intensity and frequency of bad news that we’re getting. So whether we know it or not, our body is acting from a place of survival and protection rather than healing and harmony.
How, if any at all, big a role does insecurity play in the mental health of a Nigerian?
The state of insecurity plays a major role in our mental health as Nigerians. Look at it this way, mental health, at the fundamental level, is how we think and feel, and how those affect our world view (beliefs) and in turn, influence our behaviour.
Insecurity is doing just that.
By being bombarded by all the bad news & security crisis in Nigeria, our thoughts can be skewed to survival and self-preservation. Those thoughts make us nervous & anxious. The combination of both causes us to act from a place of “kill or be killed” & that’s affecting how we live.
So yes, while that may not be present across 100% of the population, it certainly gives us perspective and brings national issues closer to home. There’s so much more to it considering that taking in the news and experiencing it first-hand can affect us differently and even the same.
Let’s talk about trauma. Should we be ringing the alarm on it as a consequence of insecurity?
Absolutely!!! We should. People think trauma only occurs from war and gender-based violence. But a lot of our issues as adults are rooted in traumatic (though subconscious) experiences.
Think about all the people, families, communities etc kidnapped, tortured etc. Nigeria, as is, cannot boast of basic mental healthcare. Think about the consequences of the trauma of grief, loss, torture, loss of life and property in another 5 to 15 years.
We have no idea what we have on our hands. At the most fundamental level, trauma occurs when we are unable to make total sense of a psychologically stressful life experience.
It has been linked to chronic health conditions and underpins almost all mental health conditions.
What are the non-obvious effects of insecurity on mental health? What are the immediate effects? Intermediate effects? Long term effects?
Less obvious effects of trauma include a heightened state of fear. ‘Irrational’ response to fear and safety stimulus. Inability to trust and build strong and intimate interpersonal relationships. Gut, stomach and related problems.
Immediate effects of trauma may look like nightmares, excessive security measures, feelings of danger, repetitive behaviour (e.g. constantly checking if the doors are locked), uneasiness etc.
In the long term, trauma affects our ability to create strong bonds and intimate relationships. The change in how we respond to fear and safety could lead to common mental health conditions like depression, bipolar, anxiety conditions and more.
On the one hand, this means that we’re robbing a huge part of our population and generation of the opportunity to live mentally healthy lives through systemic issues that could have been avoided.
On the other hand, we’re creating more and more disability in a country that cannot is neither inclusive nor have adequate social welfare for people with mental health conditions.
Is this what happened to our parents? Did witnessing the war have real effects on their mental health?
Hmmm… Yes, we can safely assume that a lot of behaviour from the older generation is rooted in the consequences of trauma from war, tribal clashes, military regime and more.
It isn’t far-fetched to draw parallels with their ‘meekness’, fear & cautious behaviour.
Imagine having freedom and lightness in your approach to life only be beaten down psychologically by fear, anger, loss and grief. It stifles expression. It holds us back. It limits our performance through life.
That’s what trauma does. It makes us stuck.
Is there any way to avoid getting traumatized today, considering the reality of heightened fear and anxiety?
There’s something I always say – we cannot self-care our way out of a mentally unhealthy environment. So while some self-care practices and tips could help us all stay a little bit more grounded every day, we must recognise that many of these rely on privilege. Some of these tips are:
- Creating boundaries around news and social media.
- Curate a morning and night routine that keeps you centred.
- Intentionally make time for activities that boost your mood.
- Practice more movement – dance, exercise, swimming etc
So, we’re all traumatised. What should we be doing to combat all the trauma we’ve already accumulated?
To a large extent, we’ve all gone through psychologically stressful life experiences. To unburden ourselves, we could:
- Admit that we indeed have experiences to unpack.
- Be kind to ourselves in this realisation & know that it wasn’t our fault.
- Map out how trauma is showing up in our lives and the importance of addressing it.
- Going to therapy, speaking with a counsellor or related practitioner.
- We offer free mental health support via 0800 800 2000 (24/7 toll-free)
What should the government be doing in mental healthcare terms to help address this collective trauma?
Amazing question. Considering that this is a systemic issue. The only way to sustainably address the collective Nigerian trauma is through government legislation and reforms.
First, we need to ensure a human rights-respecting mental health legislation. If done correctly, this single piece of legislation will have the power to set some actions into motion. For E.g. Mental health at the primary healthcare level is a MUST. Community-based rather than the institutionalisation of people with mental health conditions will take priority.
It will then be our fundamental right to receive health insurance that is inclusive of mental health as close to home and as humane as possible. Access and affordability are barriers that are likely to be overcome with the right reforms. Perhaps most importantly is the need for mass awareness and education to bridge the gap between infrastructure and the people who need to access it.
Until we understand that trauma underpins mental health conditions, and mental health conditions are costing us financially, economically and socially, we will be unable to give this issue the urgency and importance it deserves.
Think about the Chibok girls, Greenfield University, the villages being burnt down in Southern Kaduna, the tension in Zamfara, Abia, and all the families with missing loved ones.
What is the government doing to rehabilitate people fully? What measures are being put in place to provide trauma response, crisis counselling and psychosocial support and therapy for victims, families and loved ones? It is a failure of the government and as such the responsibility of the government.
Sadly, now and in many years to come, these same victims will return to an unfair and u just system to receive mental healthcare only to meet stigma, unaffordability and inaccessibility.
This is how the cycle goes on and on. This is how dysfunctional societies are created.