Demesugh challenges the stigma around mental health

Stories | April 26, 2022

Demesugh from Nigeria challenges the stigma around mental health to prevent psychosocial disability from taking over.

Stigma is often attached to people with mental health conditions, which creates barriers stopping people from benefiting from opportunities in their communities (e.g. getting meaningful work, having access to education). This experience is called psychosocial disability.

People who experience stigma and the resulting exclusion from communities report feeling distressed and miserable. This may, in turn, reduce people’s confidence to engage with society, leading to isolation and, in some cases, reinforcing stigma. Helping people with mental health conditions requires going beyond just getting health care and medications. Access to social support and meaningful work is a way that people feel included, which is vital to their well-being.

Demesugh from Nigeria was a teenager when he suddenly began to experience trouble sleeping. “I felt as though I was losing my mind,” he says.

His father took him to a clinic where he was tested and treated for suspected malaria. When his condition didn’t improve, they tried other clinics as well as traditional medicine and prayer. However, despite all their efforts, Demesugh’s condition got worse. His family began to lose hope.

He was being treated in a psychiatric unit at a regional hospital when his father learned of a CBM-supported Comprehensive Community Mental Health Program at the nearby health centre. Demesugh enrolled in the program and began treatment for psychosis.

Demesugh experienced discrimination, and his community excluded him. 

His condition was seen as his fault, with people saying he belonged to a spiritual cult group, was afflicted with “madness”, and misperceived his condition as a drug issue.
Self-Help Group (SHG)

Thankfully, Demesugh found strength and support as a local Self-Help Group (SHG member). He attended training and meetings, interacting with people who didn’t judge him for his condition but offered support and solidarity. Demesugh currently serves as the SHG’s secretary, where he helps provide information on how to change perceptions around mental health conditions.

As a person who has battled with the challenges of a mental illness, Demesugh knows how harmful discrimination can be, yet is determined to challenge the stigma.

“I am dedicated to increasing knowledge about mental disorders and the possibility of treating it in my immediate community. I hope that the future holds more for people with mental disorders, without discrimination and stigma,” says Demesugh.

The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Program for Benue State is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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