Youth and Mental illness: There is Hope for Africa

Tuesday, 12th August 2014 was marked globally as International Youth Day (IYD) designated by the United Nations to draw attention to a given set of cultural and legal issues surrounding youths worldwide. It is quite unfortunate that the knowledge of an all important day as this is relatively poor across Africa, most especially to a vast majority who are rural dwellers and whom may have little or no access to both conventional and new Media. This year’s IYD is centered on “Youth and Mental Health”.

The 2014 observance of International Youth Day is expected to raise awareness on this important topic, as well as highlight the experiences of brave, young individuals who have chosen to speak out about these issues with the objective of overcoming stigma and discrimination to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives free from isolation and unnecessary shame, and openly seek the services and support they need.

Youth with mental health conditions can often experience stigma and discrimination, which in turn can lead to exclusion and/or discourage people from seeking help for fear of being negatively ‘labelled’. Efforts are needed to overcome this stigma to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives free of isolation and unnecessary shame, and that they openly seek the services and support they need. You can be part of these efforts. In Nigeria today, the surge of mental health cases is alarming.

Many experts are blaming the rise mainly on Depression, Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse. More threatening is the least priority for Mental Health victims by our policy makers. Health in general is still a poorly funded area of social services in most African countries and compared to other areas of health, mental health services are poorly developed. Indeed, most African countries have no mental health policies, programs or action plans.

In 1988 and 1990, the member states in the African Region of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted two resolutions to improve mental health services, and each state was expected to formulate mental health policies, programs and action plans. A survey was conducted two years later to see if the countries that had adopted these resolutions had done anything to implement them. Despite some modest achievements, the situation of mental health programs in most countries was found to be unsatisfactory.

Compelling evidence shows that a large proportion of the global health burden is due to mental disorders, and this proportion is projected to rise in many African countries. While it is often overlooked as a public health issue due to a historical focus on communicable and more immediately life-threatening diseases (such as HIV/ AIDS, malaria and most recently Ebola Virus Disease), mental health has profound effects on an individual’s quality of life, physical and social well-being, and economic productivity.


Because psychological disorders also affect families and communities of the mentally ill, understanding the effects of mental illness on individual patients and social systems is necessary for the improvement of mental health care systems and the development of effective mental health care delivery programs. Individuals with psychological disorders are at greater risk for decreased quality of life, educational difficulties, lowered productivity, poverty, social problems, vulnerability to abuse, and additional health problems. Education is often compromised when early-onset mental disorders prevent individuals from completing their education or successfully pursuing a career.

The burden of caring for a mentally ill individual often falls on the patient’s immediate family or relatives. Families and caregivers of individuals with psychological disorders are often unable to work at full capacity due to the demands of caring for a mentally ill individual, leading to decreased economic output and a reduction in household income. Loss of income and the financial costs of caring for a mentally ill person put these households at an increased risk of poverty. Family members may also experience significant and chronic stress due to the emotional and physical challenges of caring for a mentally ill family member.

Although the experience of caring for mentally ill relatives varies among families and cultures. Tackling Mental illness in requires a multi-dimensional approach to addressing the challenges faced by young people with mental health issues, including tackling stigma and promoting social inclusion to enable all young people to achieve their aspirations and goals.

It remains the primary responsibility of the government, family members, religious bodies, community heads and care givers to show love and earn the trust of mental health victims applying a psychological and profession approach. Depressed individuals requires our support, though it is quite unfortunate that majority of mental illness in Nigeria today is attributed to Witch-Craft attacks which sometime may tend to derail and frustrate efforts in curtailing the menace.

Families of mentally ill individuals should sort for proper medical care for victims instead of patronizing other means that may tend to further jeopardize the victim’s health. We can only build Africa and foster a New Nigeria if we promote and maintain a sound mind.

Christopher O. Okagbare

A Public Affairs Analyst and Social Commentator

Writes in from Benin-City, Nigeria

[email protected]