Edited by: Precious Ewuji
ABUJA, NIGERIA: It was a hectic day for *Abdulfatai Kabir, 30, who was a wheelbarrow pusher in a local market in Kubwa, a suburb in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. He pushes a wheelbarrow to help people convey their goods from one place to the other.
On a fateful day in April 2018, Kabir was worn out from the day’s stress with beads of sweat forming on his face.
As sweat trickled down to his nape, he knew it was time to rest. He parked his wheelbarrow under a mango tree and sat beside it, counting the pile of Naira notes he had made from his daily toil. Unknown to him, some street urchins were after him.
When the thugs came to Kabir, he was told to pay a certain amount of money for no reason. The tired wheelbarrow pusher asked why he should pay the money but was told the question added to his offence. He would then be told that he had occupied the thugs’ territory without asking for permission.
“That was how they started to molest me after collecting all my money,” he recounted to The SolutionsPaper with hot tears.
Hours before this ‘ugly memory’, Kabir had shimmering joy as he had made his biggest income ever in the five years of his dependence on helping people push their loads to their doorsteps. This was after his biological sister chased him away over a bogus allegation that he was the bad omen that prevented her from being pregnant.
“I did not know that the joy inside my stomach would vanish suddenly like that. The beating those street lords gave me was not the first. My sister’s husband, who is a notorious drunkard, usually slaps me every night for not allowing his wife to conceive,” he said.
Combined with other hard realities that challenged his life, Kabir’s mental instability gradually developed to the extent that he began to talk loudly to himself, especially during night times. This made him lose a job at a bakery two years ago after his co-workers lodged several complaints about him.
With no stable job at age 30, Kabir said he thought of ending his life. That was before he met Idimma, an organisation working to bridge the inequality gap in accessing mental health care services in Nigeria.
“The encounter I later had with them [Idimma] changed my life. A psychologist was assigned to me and she gave me some resources and useful advice. It was as if she was the one that had the problem. I have a new job that I can be proud of as of now,” Kabir said.
Mental health disorders are clinical illnesses where patients suffer a psychological impairment and need urgent medical attention. There is a high prevalence of such disorders in Africa with no limitation to any age group.
In Nigeria, about 60 million people suffer from mental health-related illnesses, and the majority are unaware of their mental status and do not seek medical intervention due to the fear of stigmatisation.
This only worsens the problem as the majority of the patients tend to develop suicidal thoughts or end their lives abruptly. Mentally ill people have been deemed risky to a community hence the need to keep them in asylums. However, medical-research notes that in most cases, these mentally ill persons are being abused violently, compounding their issues astronomically.
Speaking Up – A Way To Mitigate Mental Difficulty
About 75 percent of the people who need to access mental healthcare are unable to reach it as there is a shortage of clinical facilities to accommodate them. Nigeria, for instance, has only 300 psychiatrists amidst a population of nothing less than 200 million people. This is coupled with the rising case of brain drain in the medical sector.
According to Aisha Bubah, a psychologist and the founder of Idimma, the focus of the organisation is to rise as an entity against the lack of professionals that could handle mental health cases as it spells difficulties for the majority of vulnerable persons in the country.
Bubah had an experience of her own. In 2012, a bomb exploded beside Bubah’s home in Kano state. That same night, she lost her cousin to the hands of terrorists which struck her mentally.
She admitted that it was worse when no one spoke about the happenings as she had expected. Hence, she felt as if the trauma was not that relevant. Realising that the trauma lingered in her memory after a decade, Bubah launched Idimma.
Idimma, which means wellness and wholesome in the Igbo language, is a youth-led non-profit organisation located in Abuja. The organisation works to bridge the inequality gap in accessing mental health care services in Nigeria.
Idimma came as a response to indigent Nigerians who cannot afford the expenses to travel out of the country to access mental healthcare. Through their work, a helpline on the country’s emergency number 112, has also been set up to provide free counselling service to Abuja residents 24/7.
Mode of Operation
The organisation usually launches a search for the victims in public places (hospitals, asylums, and churches). After this, they engage them in interactive sections with lay counsellors who are trained by Idimma.
Then, they are screened for depression, anxiety, and stress and the results will direct the organisation to refer them to competent specialists who will provide care for their problems in a way to reduce the burden of their illness. The victims also receive trauma support, clinical therapy, psychosocial and psychological support with symptoms diagnosis.
For *Zainab Mohammed, a 12-year-old girl, losing her parents to terrorism in 2015 meant she had lost it all. The local authority in Borno state, where she is from moved her to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp but where sexual and gender-based violence prevail due to the harsh living condition and discriminatory practices.
The tragic circumstances that surrounded her rape made her turn to pregnancy preventive drugs which impacted her mental health.
“We provided her with trauma support plus therapy and we referred her to the psychiatric unit for medications. After a year under our care, she was able to get enrolled in a school and also learnt a vocational skill. Now, she has reunited with her family and is doing well,” Bubah told The SolutionsPaper.
To arrive at sustainability, Idimma usually organises advocacy programs where it trains interested persons from all walks of life to be lay counsellors. These counsellors are now expected to go back to their communities to help reduce the rate of mental complications with the knowledge and resources that they got from the non-profit.
With a team of five (5) permanent members and forty (40) volunteers, Bubah, who also doubles as the Program Lead at Idimma told The SolutionsPaper that over five hundred (500) persons have benefitted from the approach since its inception in January 2022.
For the lay counsellors, about one hundred and twenty (120) persons from Nigeria and other African countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, and India have received physical and virtual training after which most of them are now engaged in helping the victims from one community to the other.
Racheal Nsefik-Eyo, one of the lay counsellors, testified how she solves issues from help-seekers whenever they call through the toll-free line or when she travels to a rural community with the team.
“Originally, I’m a lawyer but I just developed an interest in advocacy after my mental problems. I feel fulfilled while helping people to get out of their box of depression or grief,” Nsefik-Eyo said with glee.
Is Idimma Finally Wholesome?
The focus of Idimma is to rise as an entity against the lack of professionals that could handle mental health cases as it spells difficulties for the majority of vulnerable persons in the country. But along the pathway, some challenges serve as weeds that block the expansion of the outreach.
Generally, stigmatisation is a strong killer of initiatives and individuals that work towards the alleviation of mental illness and Idimma is not an exception as they face the same challenge. To fight this, lay counsellors are to not only counsel but also screen and make referrals to the relevant specialists.
“People see anything related to mental well-being as madness and this makes it hard for people who need support to speak up,” Bubah lamented to The SolutionsPaper.
However, Idimma is currently working on creating the first radio drama series on mental health to be broadcasted in Nigeria. The radio drama series is in a bid to bring a sense of belonging to mental health patients.
“ [the radio program] will be a strong voice to the people and highlight some of the mental issues they have gone through,” Bubah noted.
Insufficient resources also block the expansion of the non-profit’s outreach because this makes it hard for sustainable implementation of projects. “It also limits the potential of impacts as we are unable to reach more beneficiaries, I believe that we will do more if all these are solved,” says Bubah.
Meanwhile, Kabir, with support from Idimma has learnt a digital skill and now earns a living as a graphic designer. He told The SolutionsPaper how proud he is, of his new job and the state of his mental health.
Editor’s note: Names with asterisks * are pseudonyms and were changed to protect identities.
Mohammed Taoheed is a freelance journalist based in Northern Nigeria where he studies Law at the Usmanu Danfodiyyo University, Sokoto State. While covering the politics beat for Ripples Nigeria, he is also the Senior Editor of Track News Nigeria.
He believes in the power of solutions media to change the social issues.
He tweets via: @editormot, you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org