Gambo Askaju is among hundreds of people who sought refuge in the town of Yola in eastern Nigeria, fleeing Boko Haram’s insurgency that has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million people since 2009.
He fled his village over two years ago, when friends and relatives were murdered right in front of him.
“I dream of those who were slaughtered. Every night I relive that journey. Then I wake-up terrified and struggle to go back to sleep,” he said.
What we are doing is listening and then try to find them solutions but also try to think or try to find what coping mechanisms they have.
Askaju is part of thousands of displaced Nigerians, who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, severe stress, anxiety, panic disorders and schizophrenia, as a result of exposure to incessant conflict.
According to the UN Refugee agency, 60 percent of those displaced, have witnessed killings or physical violence as well as destruction of their homes and communities.
“Here we can be denied jobs because we are not from here or because we are IDPs (internally displaced people). We are viewed as a risk and untrustworthy,” he said.
Askaju is now part of a group of young men who participate in weekly counselling group sessions, for victims of war related violence.
The sessions are run by the Nigerian Red Cross volunteers with training and support from psychologists from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“What we are doing is listening and then try to find them solutions but also try to think or try to find what coping mechanisms they have. It is a counselling group, but it is also a support group as the participants need to support each other,” said ICRC psychologist, Isabel Rivera.
According to ICRC, over 200 people have attended counselling sessions since May 2016.
Mental illness is often misunderstood in Nigeria, and the situation is further exacerbated by the lack of adequate health facilities treating mental illness conditions.