According to the World Health Organisation, one in four Nigerians has a mental illness. The same health body also estimates that one in four people globally will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. Nigeria has about 300 psychiatrists catering to its teeming 200 million-strong population. With statistics such as these, many young people requiring mental health care are unable to access it, exacerbating their condition.
To highlight the importance of seeking professional mental health care, I spoke to five young Nigerians with mental health conditions about their experiences with medication.
Tobi, Male, 25
I was in school for an important exam and I found out I couldn’t read or remember anything I had read. It was quite difficult to fall asleep and I woke up tired and frustrated, which frustrated me even more. I knew I was terribly scared of the exam but I assumed everyone was scared too. The anxiety disorder and depression diagnosis came in 2019 and I was placed on a regimen of drugs, including anti-hypertensives.
They made me feel crappy. While I felt unhappy and anxious before, I suddenly felt super sleepy during classes and lacked the mental strength to do anything. I felt like a robot. A weak and tired robot with no happiness or sadness. I cut it out after a while and embraced the anxiety, despite my exams. I still get memory lapses and mad anxiety while at work. After a while, a friend recommended I visit the Yaba Neuro-psychiatric hospital and was placed on a different regimen. These drugs made me feel demotivated, groggy and tired. I intend to go back to complain about these side effects.
Big Daddy, Male, 26
I had no choice but to go see a psychiatrist. It was either that or killing myself, and I really wasn’t in the mood to die. I decided to go to a psychiatric hospital in Calabar. I was prescribed some drugs and we’ve had to adjust the dosage over time. I started with 100mg daily, reduced to 50mg after a while, then down to 25mg only when I needed it. But the Lekki Tollgate incident happened and messed up my psyche and I’m back to 25mg daily. It was a really mentally disturbing period.
The side effects were another story. Increased lethargy, loss of libido, fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, irritability. Eventually, my body adjusted and the side effects dwindled by the day. Now, I’m seeing the benefits of the medication, the most distinct of which is my mood stability. Mood swings occur less frequently and my anxiety is much more manageable.
The meds also helped me in several other ways, in the short term. For example, I become very anxious when I’m flying. Taking a pill of my meds before my flight reduced my anxiety drastically while in the air. I also sleep much better. Before the meds, my sleep pattern was horrible. I used to be able to sleep maybe 3-4 hours and I’d spend all day lethargic. Not anymore. Even beyond my mental health, I still see other benefits. For example, one of the drugs I was prescribed for depression also treats irritable bowel syndrome, which I’ve always had. I have the double benefit of fixing my head and stopping my stomach from killing me with one drug.
Reni, Female, 31
I had my first major depressive episode in 2010. At first, I was in denial and tried to deal with it myself. I eventually sought treatement in 2015 and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I began some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but it started feel like homework so I stopped. I didn’t get a prescription for drugs because I was moving to a new city and didn’t want to handle all the side effects of the drugs while settling in. I eventually got a prescription in 2018.
Depression is HARD. It makes everyday feel like climbing a mountain. Even little things like eating become difficult and don’t get me started on the suicide ideation. This is why medication is important. The meds make depression less heavy and life easier, generally.
Depression is a never-ending journey. In 2018, I had another major depressive/anxiety episode. It was so bad that I had to go to the doctor’s office for an emergency appointment. I just wanted them to give me all the drugs LOL.
The medication isn’t a magical fix though. It takes time to kick in, and some of the initial side effects are nasty. It took us a few months to get a dosage that was working for me. When we did, it was like the most extreme ends of the emotional spectrum were gone. On one hand, I wasn’t misrable or feeling unable or unwilling to exist, which was good, but on the other hand, I felt like I could not cry. For more than a year, I didn’t cry once, and usually, I’m quite the crier LOL. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it felt like my ability to be excited was capped at 75%. When I was eventually coming off the drugs, it was so uncomfotable. I used to get brain zaps for two months, which are actually a common side effect.
Kim, Female, 21
I’ve always know that I’ve struggled with depression but I was offically diagnosed a few months ago. I had to go get help when I knew I was in a bad place. I mean, I was cutting and constantly abusing myself. I was very close to ending it all. I just knew that if I didn’t get help, I was going to kill myself. Thankfully, a friend I had just met made me see that help wasn’t so hard to get.
When I first started medicating, it wasn’t all calm o. In fact, I started feeling more depressed. I even felt like overdosing on the drugs before I realised that the hospital actually gave me just enough for a short period and it wasn’t enough to overdose on. After a week or so, I started feeling better. I can only describe it as suddenly feeling tranquil. There used to be a constant raging storm in my head but gradually, it began to calm. I started feeling more sane and I could think more clearly. I just felt like I was alive once again. However, I’m scared that I might have to live my life taking these drugs. One time, I forgot to use my meds and I could feel myself slipping again. It was scary.
Overall, it was the best decision I ever made. I was on the edge, losing so much of myself. The drugs are helping. They aren’t the ultimate fix but it’s a great start. Super happy I had my friend who made sure I got the help I really needed.
Sadiq, Male, 26
The anxiety became crippling and consuming. It became too much. Every second of the day, I was anxious; too anxious to pick my calls, doubly anxious if someone yelled my name. I knew it was too much to bear when, one day, someone was being yelled at beside and I instantly coiled up. People thought I used to sleep late because I wanted to, but the real reason was I was always too anxious at night.
Considering the country we’re in, the process of getting a diagnosis and medication was surprisingly easy. I spoke to a friend who already went through the process and he put me on to Yaba Neuro-psychiatric Hospital, popularly known as Yaba Left. I grew up hearing wild stories about it and I was worried for a but it went smoothly and the doctors were super nice.
My experience with medication has been fairly good. I’ve been sleeping well and I honestly didn’t know I could live like this. At first, I had side effects like low libido. All of a sudden, it skyrocketed. In fact, someone I was sleeping with at the time thought I was a monster because I kept going without an orgasm. She didn’t know I wanted to but just couldn’t. Thankfully, it’s back to normal now. Overall, I’ve seen great improvements in my interactions with people and my quality of life has shot up immensely.
Sarah, Female, 25
Mentally, I felt overwhelmed, like there were invisible hands around my neck choking me, and not in a fun way. I felt like a burden on people, like I dampened everything; conversations, fun etc. Everything was paradoxically underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time.
A friend talked me into getting help a few days ago and I was prescribed some medication by a psychiatric hospital in Ibadan. Although I’ve only been medicating for a few days, I’ve seen some changes already. I don’t shake as much as I used to, I’m a lot less jumpy. I feel more clear-headed and organised. It’s not like the drugs don’t have side effects; I’ve not had any appetite since yesterday and the night-time drugs made me feel drowsy initially, and I was also horny in a weird way. Still, the benefits outweigh the negatives for me and I’m glad I got help.
Zikoko cares about your mental health. Reach out to non-profits such as MentallyAware Nigeria here to talk to a mental health professional today. You could also call their emergency line on 08091116264 or follow @MentallyAwareNG on Twitter.
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