By Winifred Ogbebo and Victor Okeke
— Aug 18, 2014

The incessant terror attacks orchestrated by the deadly group, Boko Haram have devastated the country and shattered the hope of many people and families. Orphans, widows and widowers abound all over the country as a result of the activities of the group. In this report, WINIFRED OGBEBO and VICTOR OKEKE look at the calamities and their effects on family members and possible solutions

Sudden death is a term used to describe tragic and unexpected death. It is usually traumatizing as such violent and abrupt end to life leaves family members with many puzzles.

According to Human Rights Watch, from 2009 to date, Boko Haram activities in Nigeria have left over 15,000 people dead. The deaths and violence arising from these attacks have no doubt created a number of complex issues for survivors and exacerbated grief response.

A recent study in the Journal of Psychology, says the sudden loss of loved ones can trigger a variety of psychiatric disorders even in people with no record of mental illness. Researchers say the unexpected death of loved ones roughly double the risk of new-onset mental health crisis in people thirty years and older.

Losing a loved one unexpectedly also raises the risk of major depression, excessive use of alcohol, and anxiety disorder, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias. These health issues are reported in all age groups affected by sudden death.

Recently, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) criticized the federal government for not having functional emergency plans in the public health sector despite the increasing insecurity in the country. The NMA chairman in Osun State, Dr. Anthony Onipede, said, “right now, the nation is under attacks which are killing innocent souls across the nation, yet Nigeria does not have any functional emergency plans nor public health-oriented disaster management systems,”

According to him, the NHIS is still limited despite that the fact the scheme has been introduced for some years. Barely a day after Mrs. Mary Paul Lalai, the mother of one of the girls abducted from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State died of a heart attack, another person, Mr. Mutai Hona, a father of two of the abducted girls was reported dead of same heart attack. His death came just days after watching the video of the kidnapped girls released by Boko Haram without seeing his daughters in it.

This year alone, over 3,300 people have been killed by Boko Haram, making it the most violent year in the history of this insurgency according to Amnesty International.

A psychologist puts it this way: “A sudden tragic event shatters our sense of order and thrusts us into a world forever changed. Survivors may experience a greater sense of vulnerability and heightened anxiety. The safe world we once knew no longer exists. We fear for ourselves, our friends and family. Survivors become overwhelmingly preoccupied with thoughts that such a terrific act might happen again.”

Ernest Kachia, who is currently receiving treatment at the Trauma Centre of the National Hospital, said his problem started with disbelief. “I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that my entire family members were no more. Even though it was true, something inside of me was telling me it was not possible and this led to conflict within me”, he said.

A senior consultant psychiatrist and head of psychiatry department of the Wuse General Hospital, Dr. (Mrs.) Ede Ojo, said cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and mania are common experiences when people’s sense of security is threatened.

She said she had “attended to a number of people who after the Nyanya bomb blast could not sleep, as they were anxious and on the edge. For some, the condition might just last for some days while for some others, it lingers for long time.”

This reality should alert health care professionals about the possible onset of a wide range of health risks that the attacks by Boko Haram insurgents could expose Nigerians to. Medical personal should go beyond proffering remedies to the immediate victims of such attacks to investigating about the welfare of their children, wives, husbands, parents and friends.

Ojo said healthcare providers should recognize the underlying causes of illnesses and just treat the symptoms, while enjoining her colleagues to be more sensitive to issues. According to her, if people do not believe they cannot get help from hospitals if they are in such situation, they will not come.

“What you see in society today is more problems, people coming to doctors for poor sleep, worries and increased blood pressure, but not all of them can tell you it is because of what I saw or heard that I am feeling like this,” she added.

The consultant psychiatrist advised that government should do more in crisis intervention. In addition to treating the physical wounds and lacerations, she said there should be a place for immediate counselling which she described as helpful, adding because of the shocking experience, people interpret and internalize these experiences differently.

“Government-funded support services for victims of crime should be initiated in the country. As in most other civilized democracies, the government should establish a national centre for victims of crime and adequate compensations made available for these victims. Even though no amount of compensation will restore the lost lives, it will, however, go a long way in alleviating their traumas and putting them back into the mainstream society.

“If you know someone who has being affected by the recent Boko Harm attacks, it affects you too. Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement and learn about post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Talk to your friend or relative, and listen carefully. You may invite your friend over to own house, and take him out for positive distractions like walks, outings and other activities. Remind your friend or relative that with time, he or she can get better,” Ojo further said.

In his view, a United Kingdom-based consultant psychiatrist and president of Reconnect Health Development Initiative (Reconnect HDI), Dr. Vincent Udenze called on the federal government to put in place trauma lines that would provide psychological services to Nigerians.

He said Nigerians were being traumatized as they live in deep fear, heightened anxiety, despair, helplessness, hopelessness, depression due to the horrors from the activities of insurgencies in the country.

According to him, “Nigeria cannot boast of one effective crisis helpline that can help to offer victims with psychological interventions despite the various degree of tragedies bedevilling the country.”

He further said the federal government should as a matter of urgency make it a top priority, pointing out that “the crises in northern Nigeria following the Boko haram insurgence are psychologically devastating.

Governors should be advocating improved psychological support for the citizenry. You will never know the importance of these services until you set one up and collect data on people who have subscribed to it.

He said, “Nigerians need to be able to pick the phone and call a toll free number to speak to counsellors who speak local dialects. This service has to be a 24- hour service. Sometimes stress, trauma, depression can make you have negative thoughts to the point of being suicidal. Sometimes you need to speak to a professional to counsel you and then encourage you to seek further help.

“Nigerians do commit suicide due to depressed mood but we don’t have government data to capture the enormity of this problem,” he added.


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