TACOMA, Washington — Due to the extreme violence occurring in Nigeria, many people are struggling with the mental health effects that come from that trauma. Boko Haram operates in northeastern Nigeria with violent tactics against civilians, such as executions, kidnappings, arson and rape against the Nigerian people. In other areas, ISIS is trying to gain territory. More than 1.8 million Nigerians had to leave the country and more than 20,000 have died as a result of the violence.
At least three in 10 Nigerians suffer from a mental illness according to the Nigerian Ministry of Health. Furthermore, many of the survivors of violence show signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, however most mental illness goes untreated. Nigeria only has eight public mental health facilities across the whole entire country, which is very inadequate for the needs of the people.
Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative
To respond to this huge lack of care, a medical student named Victor Ugo launched the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative, or MANI, in 2016. Dr. Ugo was in medical school when he started this nonprofit as a response to how the lack of mental health resources contributed to his own struggle with depression. Ugo wanted to raise awareness about mental illness, but also help destroy the very negative stigma around mental health issues in Nigeria.
To make the greatest impact, Ugo decided to focus NAMI’s efforts on reaching the youth of Nigeria. To catch the attention of young people, Ugo and his volunteers started using social media. This included launching campaigns online and sharing testimonials about mental illness. This expanded into in-person events, such as “food fairs” or “conversation cafes” which acted as monthly workshops to talk about different topics. Ugo believed this style of interaction was more accessible and interesting than the normal symposium or lecture-style talks. The relaxed format of MANI’s meetings created an environment that allowed people to open up and talk about their own struggles surrounding mental health. This is one way MANI is helping mental health through in-person strategies.
Impact of MANI
To address the large population still at risk, Ugo utilized WhatsApp and Twitter to create a 24-hour mental health support line for emergency help, advice, counseling, or just someone to talk to. In addition, MANI also started a 24-hour suicide hotline. Volunteer counselors operate both of the hotlines. First though, mental health professionals train those volunteers on how to properly safe talk and provide assistance. MANI now has more than 1,500 volunteers and is active in 13 Nigerian states.
Currently, more than 10,000 people have spoken to MANI over WhatsApp and the organization has hundreds of volunteer applications. MANI has handled more than 15,000 cases, with the average age between 10 and 25, showing the huge success using social media has been in reaching young people. MANI also has a website, blog, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube channel now, in addition to the original Twitter and WhatsApp accounts. MANI found a way to reach the masses on an extremely stigmatized topic, all while keeping services free and anonymous if need be. Because of MANI, many citizens in Nigeria are able to get the help they need to live better and happier lives.
– Claire Brady