Anja Ringgren Lovén, the founder of Nigeria-based NGO Land of Hope, shared the story of one of the children in Land of Hope, Joseph. The doctors diagnosed the boy with serious mental health conditions, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. With his story, the social worker took the opportunity to comment on the poor healthcare situation in Nigeria.
The founder of Land of Hope rescued Joseph more than five years ago. He was accused of being a witch, and we found him in very poor condition. People of his family and community abused him and left him to die on the street. She recollected that when they brought Joseph to the Land of Hope and gave him medical treatment, he recovered quickly, but we quickly noticed that something was wrong with his mental health.
She observed that it is very normal for children we rescue to be anxious and worried initially, but Joseph was the opposite. He was overly excited and seemed delusional at the same time. Seeing this, they took Joseph for a full psychiatric examination. After weeks of many tests, the doctors diagnosed Joseph with schizophrenia.
Even though it was not the news we were hoping for, getting a correct diagnosis helped us understand Joseph’s problems and gave us the right treatment methods. With the right medication, Joseph started school, and for some years, he was doing fine, but slowly over time, Joseph developed hallucinations.
The children, staff and all of us quickly learned to help Joseph calm down when he had hallucinations. However, the hallucinations made him so tired that he fell asleep in school. Early in 2022, the team at Land of Hope saw another change in Joseph’s behaviour. He became suspicious of others and became very paranoid and aggressive. He heard voices in his head. So, the authorities of Land of Hope took him off his medication, and the doctors did new tests on the boy.
Following this, they received the diagnosis that he had Bipolar Disorder. They admitted Joseph into a private psychiatric medical centre with Land of Hope, Director of Child Development. She expressed that It was not an easy decision for us, but we knew Joseph needed professional support.
Land of Hope male carers took turns staying with Joseph at the facility every day to make sure he was not alone. By the end of January and after spending almost three months at the psychiatric medical centre, Joseph’s mental health had not improved. Anja said the situated frustrated the two founders, and David and I decided it was time to bring Joseph back home to the “Land of Hope.”
Now back home, Joseph is stable and happy. But we still hope to find doctors specializing in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, she noted that its not easy! Doctors are leaving Nigeria to work abroad. Nigeria’s health care system has collapsed. She shared that another issue is that people in Nigeria with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations and discrimination.
Mental health awareness is seriously lacking in Nigeria. Children with mental health disorders get accused of being possessed by evil spirits. It’s a neglected issue, and there is a serious lack of coherent and comprehensive mental health laws.
Anja expressed the hope they can give Joseph the mental health care he needs someday. Everyone at the NGO loves him and cares for him, but with the right treatment, he might be able to start school again.