The #EndSars protest took place amidst the presence of a global pandemic and at a time when the unemployment rate is at its highest level. In the aftermath of the protest, families lost their loved ones, private property and investments were looted amongst other untold stories. ROYAL IBEH writes on how to remain sane during this period.
Although protests, riots and revolutions have long been a part of human history, no doubt, the recent #EndSARS protest against police brutality, extrajudicial killings, torture, extortion gradually became bloody when it was hijacked by hoodlums leaving the nation to recuperate from the massive destruction.
At the moment, it is becoming impossible to turn on the television, open a newspaper or go online without seeing the gory images of the uprisings and watching how innocent Nigerians including the police and army officers were killed. Emotions are high all having a negative effect and hurting the mental health of millions.
During the unrest, businesses were largely affected. In fact, the past weeks have been very terrifying in the history of the nation. The traditional and new media are also awash with reports of bloodshed of people including the police officers being brutalized in what started as a peaceful protest.
Prior to the #EndSARS protest, a survey by Annals of Nigerian Medicine revealed that mental health disorders are not uncommon in Nigeria, as an estimated 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the country’s population is believed to be suffering from mental disorders.
Experts, however, decried the percentage considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million people. The survey further revealed that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders would affect the wellbeing of more Nigerians than complications arising from AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and wars combined.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday, Mrs Tobi Bakari, a trader, said the event that took place at Lekki tollgate on 20th October 2020 was an unforgettable one. “Our hearts bled; we could not sleep. The videos kept popping up. Could this be happening in Nigeria? The videos were so horrible. We couldn’t stop crying, because we never imagined that such a thing could ever happen in Lagos State, so it was difficult for us to comprehend it.
“Though we didn’t lose any of our loved ones, for a whole week, we felt we lost everything. I wanted to sit my children down to explain the videos they saw through social media platforms but nothing came out of my mouth, because I cannot even understand it myself. My children are depressed. I pray they pass through this phase with their mental health intact,” she lamented.
A correspondent with the Nigerian Tribune Newspaper, Mr Collins Nnabuife, who escaped death by whiskers, while recounting his near-death story covering the #EndSARS protest, said he met the protesters at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja in their hundreds and quickly alighted from the vehicle and began to video and interview the protesters.
Nnabuife said as the protesters were moving peacefully around River Plate Garden Wuse 2, they noticed some persons running towards them from behind carrying machetes and other dangerous weapons.
‘’I was behind the protesters, also secured by the bodyguards, all of a sudden, the bodyguards took to their heels towards the protesters, telling them (protesters) not to run but stay together and defend themselves.
‘’At that point, the armed hoodlums were close to me. I am neither a protester nor a hoodlum. I am just a journalist doing my work. But the question is they did not write journalist on my face.
‘’When that thought was running in my mind, the hoodlums were very close, immediately I had to dash through the River Plate Garden gate, entered the garden and watched as youths machete themselves, some used sticks and stones to attack each other,’’ he said.
Just like Nnabuife, many Nigerians who participated in the protest have stories to tell, while other Nigerians are pouring their anguish through social media. Emotions at the moment are high, families are in grief.
No doubt, the event has negatively affected the mental health of most Nigerians especially the youths. However, remaining sane amidst the #EndSARS period remains sacrosanct.
According to mental health experts, the killings resulting from the #EndSARS protest, have been highly traumatising and taking a huge toll directly and indirectly on their mental health with immediate effects, short and long-term effects on most Nigerians.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP Sunday the founder, Pinnacle Medical Services Limited, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, said the immediate effects could lead to poor sleep or lack of sleep due to the traumatic happenings, and if not properly managed, can lead to insomnia or other psychological problems.
The mental health advocate said the event “can lead to poor appetite. This is more among those that saw people die right in front of them, during the protest with the shedding of blood and other gory pictures imprinted in their minds.
“To some, they may have symptoms such as stomach ache, headache, and body aches. They may have the feeling that they are falling sick and also have panic attacks such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, hyperventilation, swearing, dizziness amongst others.”
For the short term effects, Kadiri said it could lead to anxiety disorder, adding that anxiety was a normal emotion, but when it becomes more intense, affecting the individual’s activities of daily living with symptoms such as excessive worry, feeling agitated, restlessness, sleep disorder, fatigue, poor concentration, irrational fear, among others, then that individual is advised to seek medical help.
“Depression is also one of the short term effects that can occur due to the aftermath of events that happened due to the protest with symptoms such as low mood/sadness, low energy, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, poor sleep and appetite.
“Recent events may also lead to an increase in the abuse of alcohol and other substances which usually occur when traumatised people try to medicate themselves when going through pain,” she added.
For the long term effects, the mental health advocate said the killings resulting from the #EndSARS protest, could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder which can occur three to six months.
Symptoms to watch out for, according to Kadiri are nightmares, recurrent unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event, reliving the traumatic event as if it was happening again (flashbacks), trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event, avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event, sleep issues, mood changes, among others.
The way forward, according to her, is to “practice deep diagrammatic breathing by breathing in through your nose for about two seconds and then purse your lips and press gently on your stomach and exhale slowly for about two seconds.”
She advocated for a group psychological debriefing for survivors, relatives of the fallen heroes, people present on-site, those that watched the live stream and those affected by the news. She urged Nigerians to seek medical help especially those with existing mental health issues.
She said, “Please if you already have an existing mental health issue, reach out to your doctor or therapist immediately.
“Remember, just because a person smiles all the time, doesn’t mean their life is perfect. That smile is a symbol of hope and strength,” she added.
Also, the founder, My Beautiful Mind Organisation, Miss Oluwanifemi Sowole, urged Nigerians especially the youths to remove the pressure coming from social media and focus on themselves in order to avoid mental health illness.
Sowole said, “Do not expose yourself to anything that can negatively trigger your anxiety. If the videos from the #EndSARS protest will trigger it, then stop watching them.
“The next step is to seek professional help if you are depressed and having nightmares. It is best to deal with all those feelings with your mental health provider.
A relationship recovery expert and lead consultant, MilaRis Consult, Jamila Idris, for her own part, urged Nigerians to acknowledge their emotions to make them heal quickly.
“I understand what everyone is going through and of course, it is heartbreaking, but you should not shy away from your emotions. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and speak to someone about it. We now have a coalition of mental health experts who are ready to be of service to you. Please make use of that opportunity and take charge of your mental health,” she stated.
“While we go through this dark period together, I want to urge Nigerians to remain hopeful. It always gets darker when it is about to dawn. We need to channel all the emotions we are feeling into something productive.”
As for the teenagers, Idris advised parents to ensure that their children stay away from the internet, especially this period, and if they are already exposed to the gory videos and images, then it is best they talk to a professional.
“I will also advise our youths to remain in Nigeria. Going to other countries won’t solve your problem because you will still face challenges like racism. So it is better we stay in Nigeria, build it together by contributing our own efforts to ensure that we take Nigeria to the place where we all wish it to be,” she added.