Within one week, reports of parents abusing their children by locking them up to cure them of ailments made headlines in the Nigerian media.
Horrifying images and videos surfaced during the rescue operations, showing the victims in pitiable states.
In Kebbi State, 10-year-old Jubrilu Aliyu was found chained in a stall for livestock by his parents who claimed he was epileptic. He lived with the animals for two years.
In Kano State, Ahmad Aliyu, a 30-year-old former football coach, was found locked up by his father due to drug addiction. He was in that condition for seven years and his father said he was receiving alternative medicare for an affliction by evil spirits.
A 31-year-old man was rescued from 15 years confinement in a room by his father. It was the second rescue in Kano within four days and third in a week which HumAngle reported.
A psychologist, Dr Fatima Akilu, said the sudden discovery of victims of such gruesome domestic abuse in their homes was not new except that there was now an awareness of it happening as well as increased publicity.
“Parents have been doing this for years, whether at home or sending them to places where it will be done for them,” she said.
“They abuse their children in this way due to lack of awareness of mental illnesses, and the stigma attached to it in our societies.”
The lack of awareness is what pushes a lot of parents to confuse a patient of a mental condition for jinns or another spiritual problem, and handle the condition by other means instead of seeking professional help.
“Certain aspects in our society contribute to this. Parents would rather take their children to spiritual healers or religious leaders to pray the jinns out when that is actually not the underlying issue with the child. People need to realise that mental illness is real.
“When you need emotional help, you usually go to your place of comfort like your imam or pastor. But such issues like these are not their area of expertise. They should know to refer these people to where they can actually get help,” Akilu added.
Availability of treatment in remote areas is also a contributing factor, most especially for those with mental illnesses, being very hard to access healthcare, not to mention the budget allocated towards mental health in Nigeria being minuscule.
“States need to provide more facilities in all communities. More resources need to be put into mental health as well.
“The health budget is already low as it is and mental health only gets a fraction if it. There’s a need for more,” she added
There is also a need for more practitioners such as counsellors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, Akilu said.
The underlying drug problem in the north is also one of the reasons that have made parents resort to taking matters into their own hands, she added.
“The same methods are used in some of our so called psychiatric centres or rehabs,” Akilu said.
“Some substances can induce mental conditions. Although substance abuse and mental health are two separate things, one can be induced by the other,” she pointed out.
The aftermath of going through such an ordeal can be catastrophic on the victim, Akilu told HumAngle.
“Psychological issues stemming from being locked up for long periods of time without human contact can include hyper vigilance, avoidance of socialising, fear, induced psychotic episodes, depression and also stunted emotional growth.
“A lot of people don’t get the chance to be reintegrated into society. The state usually intervenes and takes them to psychiatric hospitals to seek intervention. But it is much harder to treat after being exposed to such a traumatic ordeal for that amount of time.
“Treatment will not be as effective compared to if it was done before the victim was chained up. The combined mental state of the victim prior to the lock up and the additional trauma can make it very difficult to treat,” she said.
But not all hope is lost, as there is still a possibility for victims to also recover, and carry out functional roles in society once again, Akilu said.
“With adequate treatment, they can reach their full potential,” she added.