How mental health support is restoring hope in war-torn Nigeria
Maiduguri, 20 December, 2022 – "At some point, I lost it,” says Hafsat Naya,* 59, who lives in Jere, a Local Government Area in Borno State, Nigeria. “I was separated from the people I knew. Everyone had been displaced. There were a lot of killings and we could not go to the farm or market because of fear.”
In Borno State, over two million women, children, and men have been forced to flee their homes to stay alive. More than a decade of conflict in north-east Nigeria has resulted in an ongoing humanitarian crisis, with a dramatic mental health cost.
For Hafsat, this cost became very clear when she lost the ability to work. Her mental health deteriorated to the point that she was not able to support her family, nor herself. She had to rely on her children to feed, bathe and care for her. Slowly, she withdrew from life.
“They had to take me to the hospital, where I started treatment. As I got better, I was referred to Mala-Kachallah primary health care clinic in Maiduguri,” says Hafsat. “The health workers are very welcoming and not judgmental, I am happy with how I am treated. Also, the drugs I need to take are given to me free of charge. This has made it easy for me to continue my treatment because I would not have been able to afford it,” she adds.
Like Hafsat, 60 million people in Nigeria are suffering unspeakable distress and need help to restore their mental health, which is a crucial part of a fulfilling life.
To meet these growing needs, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been providing mental health support as part of its health care response in Borno State. More than 150 health workers have been trained in mental health care strategies in emergency settings. Patients seeking help can now receive the care they need in an effective way.
“WHO’s continued provision of mental health services to the most vulnerable in Borno State has been made possible through the generous funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE),” says Dr Beatrice Muraguri, WHO Emergency Manager for north-east Nigeria.
Mallam Muhammad Dauda Jamil, Deputy Director for Emergency Medical Response on Humanitarian Services in Borno State, highlights that many vulnerable people have benefited from WHO’s work in mental health – which integrates mental health and psycho-social support with response to gender-based violence.
“WHO is the leading organization providing specialized mental health care across 15 Local Government Areas; we are grateful for its tremendous support,” he says.
From January to December 2022, more than 16 500 patients have received specialized mental health care services and some 176 000 people have benefited from psychosocial support in Borno State. Hafsat is one of them.
“I am beginning to understand what happened to me,” says Hafsat. “Everything is not yet perfect, but I have started a small business and, for the first time in a while, I have some hope for the future,” she adds.
*Name changed to protect identity
Dr. Beatrice Muraguri; Email:bmuraguri [at] who.int
Mr. Samuel Tarfa; Email: tarfas [at] who.int