A man with mental illness

04.02.2023 Featured EXPLAINER: Are Mental Illnesses Spiritual?

Published 4th Feb, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta

It is fun to watch a mad man display in the market, but no one wants one as a child — Yoruba adage.

One of the long-standing beliefs in Nigeria is the undue association of mental illnesses with evil people tampering with one’s destiny. While this perception may not be entirely erroneous, some other factors may induce mental illness.

Alex Oluwatobi, a tweep, recently shared the video of a man apparently suffering from mental illness on Twitter. The man was identified as Kolawole Samson Aremu.

Though unkempt, haggard and barefooted, the mentally unstable man’s command of English was excellent as he spoke of Nigeria being endowed with natural resources like bitumen and iron ore.

According to Oluwatobi, Aremu was the best graduating student in Industrial Chemistry during his set at the Ogun State University, Ago-Iwoye, now now known as Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU).

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Rather unsurprisingly, Oluwatobi added, “May wicked souls not tamper with our destiny” in the written text he posted alongside the video.

A look through the comment section revealed that some tweeps agree with Oluwatobi’s shared sentiment regarding the “spiritual side” of Aremu’s situation. However, other tweeps held dissenting views. They posited that mental illnesses may be caused by other reasons.


To have a better understanding of issues bothering round mental illness, FIJ spoke with Olusina Ajidahun, a medical doctor.

Ajidahun said that it was important for the society to understand that mental illnesses are not contagious.

He also noted that modern medicine does not agree with the spiritualisation of diseases and illnesses, adding that mental illnesses can be cured if appropriate measures are taken and the right therapies and medications administered.

“A lot of times people think mental illness means madness. More often than not, people battle mental illnesses. That does not, however, mean they are mad,” said the medical doctor.

He also noted that the stigma attached to mental illnesses often prevent Nigerians from seeking help, thereby allowing their symptoms to fester.


Amid the myriad of factors that contribute to mental illness is the genetic factor.

According to a research carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), certain genes and gene variations are associated with mental disorders.

On this, Ajidahun told FIJ that “schizophrenia, for instance, may run in someone’s family.

“In that situation, one could inherit the illness, and the person may not respond to treatment as faster as someone who does not have a family history of mental illness,” he said.


Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and antisocial personality disorder are associated with chronic drug abuse.

Research has shown that cannabis intake can increase the chances of developing psychosis or a psychotic disorder. Another report revealed that cocaine, alcohol and opioids abuse, among others, can trigger mental illness.

A 2020 report by Africa Polling Institute and EpiAfric similarly showed that drug abuse is a prevalent cause of mental illness in Nigeria.

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Mental illness could also stem from physiological factors like trauma, abuse, stress, loss and socio-economical factors like isolation, discrimination, poverty and unemployment.


To address the stigma associated with mental illnesses, there is the need for increased awareness and sensitisation programmes aimed at positively influencing how Nigerians treat people who are mentally ill.

“The more we raise awareness about mental issues, the more people understand that having mentally unstable people around us does not make them permanently ill. People will also be able to detect certain symptoms and seek help on time,” said Ajidahun.

The medical practitioner also called on the government to build more rehabilitation centres as he noted that not all Nigerians can afford privately-owned centres.

“We need to show more love to those who are mentally ill. We need programmes in terms of job, social security, and business opportunities, among others, to integrate them into the society,” said Ajidahun.

Drawing an inference from the interview with Ajidahun, those who are mentally ill and are left to roam the streets can get better when the right structure is in place, and when adequate love and care are shown to them.

It might take a while for them to adjust to treatment and therapy, but they still have a shot at a better life if Nigeria works well.

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Published 4th Feb, 2023

By Abimbola Abatta


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