Is tradition the answer to mental health issues in Nigeria?
Nigeria has a population of 173.6 million citizens but less than 200 psychiatrists. For a country that endures a poorly developed medical support system, those that support mental health are even more neglected.
Very few of the purported 20 million Nigerians suffering from mental disorders such as schizophrenia have access to adequate health care. The country generally does not give health a priority, as evidenced in the national budget, and this is even less so for mental health.
The need for adequate care for those with mental disorders has led to some consideration on the legitimacy of indigenous healers. Also known as spiritual healers, they combine herbal remedies with supernatural beliefs in an effort to cure patients affected with mental health disorders. Access to professional psychiatric care is inaccessible for most Nigerians who live in communities with these healers. In addition to this, a good number of Nigerians view mental disorders as supernatural afflictions from malevolent spirits. A combination of these beliefs and lack of access may be why indigenous healers are the first point of call for treatment.
These spiritual healers often perform surgeries that involve making incisions on their patient’s skin to which herbal remedies are applied. They face criticism from professionals who view their practices as archaic and dangerous. Now, moves are being made to combine the best of indigenous and Western healing methods in a collaboration between the spiritual healers and licensed practitioners.
In Nigeria, people with severe mental disorders face homelessness, horrendous conditions, and being chained or beaten in the name of treatment. Clearly, there is a dire need to regulate those that claim to be healers. Yet, a collaboration between indigenous healers and psychiatrists could lead to easier access and better care for patients suffering from psychosis.
Could collaborating with spiritual healers lead to better treatment for people with mental disorders? Share your thoughts in a comment below or by tweeting @rafeeeeta