‘Why many Nigerians’ mental health will worsen’

Dr Ayodele Adewale, popularly referred to as Doctor Micheals is a specialist in Interventional talking therapy at the Save Our World Foundation. In this interview with SADE OGUNTOLA, he expresses concern on increasing rate of mental health problems in youths with changes in family structure and the worsening of the nations’ economy.


H OW does parenting style contribute to health problems in young people?

Today a lot of parents of the present generation of young people have difficulty understanding what they are thinking about and their thinking process. Unfortunately, it ends up as a communication gap, with young people finding solace in other things such as social media, playing games and watching movies.

Don’t forget that the social media came at the beginning of this millennium.  All these end up creating problems with sleep in many of them. However, poor sleep affects the thinking process in individuals.

Ironically, the hustle and bustle of making ends meet and concerns about money, including long distance marriages, is a reason for single parenting.  Some of these single parents have their partners working in other countries or places. But a child needs both parents for emotional and psychological development. It ensures the child grows up with a balanced view on life and for mental stability.

Often, disjointed family structures leave children with many questions unanswered; some are traumatised while others are disoriented. None is good for their health and wellbeing.


How does wrong parenting lead to mental health problems?

Because there will be a lack of parental care and lack of acceptance of parental care which can cause trauma in the child, these could cause the child to have traumatic experiences. If poorly managed, traumatic experience could end up degenerating into mental disorders, such as anxiety disorders and depression. If depression is poorly managed, it could also result in suicide. Probably, that’s why we have an increase in the suicide rate today.

Any little stress, like a girl jilting a boy or a marriage breakup can trigger depression in them quickly.  And then before, you know it, the person is dead. Don’t forget that they were already traumatised.


How often do you see cases like this?

We see them regularly. Of course, people don’t report it.  However, these younger people are not aware of the culture of silence. One thing about them is that they are very expressive. When they have questions, they ask in the form of rebellion. So parents see them as taking to marijuana, hard drugs and becoming unruly. But, actually these children are asking questions indirectly. That is why we have increase in the use of hard drugs.

So you don’t tell me that you want to start carrying out drug tests. I’m not in support of this approach because Nigeria is used to a fire brigade approach to issues. You’re not hitting the nail on the head. You are not addressing the root of the problem which is that the family system has collapsed. They take to drugs because drugs seem to provide for them what they lost or what they were not given while growing up. It gives them a temporary relief; it feels the void created by their traumatic experiences while growing up. I can tell you that today a lot of Millennials are in serious pain.


How has that got to do with drug use?

Many people don’t understand what marriage is all about. Even if the marriage seems to work and they have children, they can never take care of these children and they could also end up being traumatised. Many traumatised children turn to drugs, some who are sexually abused end up with unwanted pregnancy.  While some end up with sleep problems, others who try to maintain their body shape due to peer pressure end up with eating problems.

Children brought up under solid homes are never under peer pressure. And yet peer pressure is one of the biggest problems that adolescents and Millennials are facing now.

We have a lot of people who are stressed; some almost dress naked because of stress. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are not aware of that but merely condemn their children. Some parents, because of the economic situation in the country, even turn their children to money-making spinners. Some young people because of that end up going into fraud, prostitution. They don’t like what they are doing, but there is no job.

In a recent report, UNICEF said that one in six young Nigerians are depressed. In fact, I think that the situation may be worse than that picture painted by UNICEF.


Why did you say it could be worse than that?

How many families are stable? A child’s mental health status is a reflection of who the parents are.  I agree with UNICEF’s finding that one in six may be depressed. In fact, Covid-19 ended up creating outlets for all these aggression and traumatic. It is going to take us at least five years to make a proper assessment of the damage done by Covid-19 and the period of the lockdown. As a result, a lot of paternity tests came up. Imagine a child being told at the age of 21 that the man he calls father is actually not so; that child may end up traumatised for life except for therapy. As a country, people are just beginning to understand what therapy is all about too.


If you are the health minister, what would you proffer as solution?

Mental health is the basis of all kinds of health. And so I would make sure that we pay more attention to mental health. Take a pregnant woman whose mental health status is poor; it’s either she ends up having postpartum depression or other kinds of challenges. We must have facilities on ground to cater to people like that.

If there is adequate facilities, not only will people who have mental disorders be cared for, it will also attend to people who are going through life challenges such as economic crisis, divorce,  and bereavement. They are not stable and if the situation they are passing through is not arrested, they could end up requiring psychiatric treatment.

Focusing on increasing access to clinical care for individuals with mental health problems is important.


Where do you see Nigeria in the next 10 years if things do not change, in terms of drug use and the care for the mental health of young people?

Drug use will become a household thing; fraud will become a thing in vogue. Marriages will collapse. Families will collapse. Young people will not get married again. There will be an increase in baby mamas. There will be an increase in baby fathers; there will be an increase in single parents that would traumatise a lot of children. There will be so many children, adolescents and adults who do not have good mental health status, and that will reflect on poor performance at work.


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