Disabled not dehumanized.

I took my daughter out for a walk today, when we set out she was chatting and waving at the cars but as usual on our way back she slept off giving me time to observe my environment. My attention was drawn to a guy on a mobility scooter he seemed unperturbed by life as he navigated his way on the side walk; his confidence shone through. His demeanour drove home the importance of equipping health impaired individuals with at least the minimal support required to lead a normal life despite their impairments. This increases their confidence and will to live and in turn commands an outsiders respect for the individual. I wish I could say the same was true for people with various health impairments back home.

IMG-20150610-00244From my observation over time people are classified as healthy in Nigeria if they had no debilitating physical illness. Physical impairs/ disabilities are considered a misfortune or ill fate, the individual is left to their own devices and often times such conditions translates to a stripping of basic human rights. With a supportive network mostly family individuals have been able to cope but society still ostracises them; the government does nothing to help or improve their lives. The case is quite different and more horrific for individuals who have mental or social health issues. It is often considered a curse, a damnation or a sign of ill fated destiny. Thus people with such issues are written off and a times preferred dead.

Children disabled by polio. Picture by Mike Urban

According to WHO, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (1946). Not having a physical ailment but disguising or living ignorantly with a social or mental ailment does not make you healthy but this is often the case in Nigeria. By doing this we ignore the amazing potential that lies within our minds, which we willingly hand over to others unconsciously.

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being characterised by optimal levels of thinking, feeling and being able to cope with life’s stresses, ups and down whilst mainlining healthy relationships in the community. Mental illness on the other-hand refers to all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behaviour associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.

Several mental disorders exist in Nigeria; many are hidden under different guises. Some under the guise of societies ignorance others under the guise of religion. Whatever the case individuals with this ailments would rather disguise it for fear of the proffered solutions (mostly form religious leaders: pastors, imamahs, local healers e.t.c) the possibility of becoming a laughing stock and a times being ostracised. These conditions are hidden until they can longer be contained.

Anxiety disordersanxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe (NHS 2014). Everyone gets anxious but some people struggle to get their worries under control; their feelings of anxiety are more constant often affecting their lifestyle. In some cases it leads to paranoia. Most Nigerians turn to religion when they feel anxious and I am a strong advocate for finding peace through religion but when you misinterpret religion anxiety morphs into an obsessive ritualistic and unrealistic lifestyle characterised by a constant fear and suspicion of people.The individual goes on to indulge in bizarre activities hoping to keep these worries away. Thus externalizing the situation rather than finding balanced coping mechanisms.

Mood disorders: It is my belief that depression is the most common in Nigeria, depression is a feeling of sadness or unhappiness that goes on for more than days or weeks. The socio-economic atmosphere in Nigeria can be very depressing for the regular individual.According to Gallup-Healthways well-being index (Jan 2-Dec 31 2011) about 31% of Americans in poverty say they have at some point been diagnosed with depression compared with 15.8% of those not in poverty.The study also found a higher level of obesity for the impoverished -31.8% as against 26% for adults not in poverty. Most individuals suffering depression often resort to crime (money laundering, impersonating religious leaders), wayward lifestyles and hooliganism to cope.

A mentally ill patient shackled to an engine block at the Olaiya Naturalist Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Eating disorder: this is characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour. Because of our culture anorexia and bulimia are not very common and in cases where they occur, they are rarely reported. Binge eating on the other hand is a coping mechanism borne out of stress, it is often seen as a sign of good living when one can afford to eat anything they want when they want it but eating this way becomes an unhealthy obsession when it can’t be controlled.

When closely examined all three conditions above can be seen in one person and certain times one condition might lead to another.The concept of living and functioning to the best of ones’s ability whilst being physically, mentally or socially impaired is still very foreign. The disabledI totally understand why this is so, living daily in a state of optimal physical, mental and social health is a luxury and not a given for individuals born without impairments in Nigeria thus the situation becomes totally bleak for anyone with challenges both acquired and genetic.The need for a change in societies attitude towards mental or physical disability is unquestionable; we must move away from seeing the disabled as non or inferior humans to recognising them as people also desirous to have a life.

DISCLAIMER: the above write up is simply my opinion drawn from life and personal observations. It is open to challenge and amendment. Many of the things I have written about I daily address myself, anxiety being the first.

2 Timothy 1 vs 7: God has given us a sound mind….think for yourself, challenge the status quo. Demand answers from God for yourself, He more than wants to hear from you and there are things God wants you to do for yourself, figure out by yourself….that’s why He made sure it was a sound mind.

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