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Addressing Nigeria's Mental Health Challenge Amidst Economic Hardship

Health experts alert on mental problems due to economic isssues.   -  
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Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved


Africa’s most populous country Nigeria is facing its biggest economic crisis in decades, with the number of impoverished Nigerians rising.

The free fall of the naira and an alarming surge in the cost of living caused the rise from 89.8 million at the beginning of 2023 to 104 million, according to the World Bank’s Nigeria Development Update report.

The high cost of living is being attributed to soaring inflation and the high exchange rate.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) also shows that inflation reached 31.70 percent in February 2014 from 29.90 percent recorded in January 2024, recording an increase of 1.80 percent.

Mental health experts and advocates have warned the present situation is having an impact on anger, anxiety, stress and depression levels in the country.

Ayodeji Michael-Oni, a Lagos-based Psychotherapist and mental health advocate says Nigerians are being pushed to the brink by factors beyond their control.

‘The economic situation of the country, you know, is tearing a lot of people apart’, says Michael-Oni.

“I can tell you categorically that somebody that is mentally stable, will not break down totally. A woman that being abused at home, when she gets on the bus and the conductor is harassing her, If you see that kind of woman shout and have an outburst, it is not just because of the conductor. There are a lot of underlying factors’ explains Micheal-Oni.

The mental health advocate wants more awareness and advocacy to tackle the menace of mental health illnesses in the country.

He warned there was an urgent need for Nigerians to be more mindful of this, seek treatment, be gentle and kind as the country goes through a challenging economic situation.

However, due to the myths and stigma associated with mental health in Nigeria, a deeply religious country, seeking counseling or a therapist is seen by some in the West African nation as a sign of weakness.

But with apps like FriendnPal, an online psychotherapy platform, conversations around its benefits are growing.

The platform is a mobile application that leverages the power of technology to help Nigerians and Africans struggling with mental health.

FriendnPal’s AI-based Chatbot helps users interact with counselors and therapists.

Its founder Esther Eruchie identified financing, stigmatization and lack of awareness as some of the factors affecting treatment of mental health.

Our platform is anonymous. We also have the AI Chatbot (Internet Companion AI Chatbot) you can converse with 24/7, share your issues with. You can converse with it in multiple African languages’ Kayode Adeshina the chief Technology officer at FriendnPal said.

“There are virtual therapy sessions, where you can have therapy sessions with our therapists without having to leave your house´ Adeshina added.

While platforms like this improve access to mental health services, some experts believe there is also a need for interventions on the part of the government.

‘A lot of people don’t realize that mental health is as important as your physical health and so this leads us to poor financing when it comes to mental health care in Nigeria.’ Esther Eruchie stated.

She called on the government to focus on how to finance mental health initiatives and platforms that are changing lives across the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 40 million Nigerians are affected by mental illness.

Some of the country’s most prevalent mental illnesses include depression and anxiety disorders.

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