Political unrest is nothing new in Nigeria; uncertainty, apprehension, and stress are frequently present during elections.
But in addition to the nationwide cash crunch, the 2023 general elections could have a big effect on people's mental health.
The nation has been battling economic difficulties for a number of years, including high inflation, rising unemployment, and rising rates of poverty.
Remember that since December of last year, the cash shortage brought on by the Central Bank of Nigeria's (CBN) Naira redesign policy has continued to affect the general public and cause more suffering for Nigerians who are already suffering from poverty.
A report by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stating that 133 million Nigerians were multidimensionally poor coincided with the cash crunch's peak.
Inadequate access to education, living conditions, health, employment, and security, according to the report, are to blame for the nation's rising poverty.
The Daily Post reported that the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, disclosed in early November 2022 that 133 million Nigerians were multi-dimensionally poor, saying that the figure represents 63 percent of the country’s population.
The Daily Post also reported the policy somersault and confusion that trailed the Naira redesign policy, with some Nigerians losing their lives in the struggle to access their money in banks.
Following the CBN’s direction on Monday that the old N500 and N1,000 notes remained legal tender until December 31, many commercial banks’ gates were full before 8:00 am on Tuesday, with customers optimistic that their sufferings would end.
Speaking to the Daily Post, Mrs. John Grace, a bank customer in Kaduna State, lamented that she had stood at the First Bank gate since 6:00 am and was sure of going home with money.
Another customer, Mr. Jusmana Moses, who banks with United Bank for Africa, said his bank would not have any excuses to give.
“It’s either they give me new notes or old currency,” he said.
With the anxieties generated by the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections yet to decline, the gubernatorial and state house elections are scheduled for March 18.
Amidst the moribund economy, experts have warned that stress caused by anxiety related to economic uncertainties and elections could increase the risk of developing depression and other mental health illnesses.
A consultant psychiatrist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, and public relations officer of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Dr Okwudili Obayi, told The Daily Post in an interview that the country is in a period of transition, warning that the harsh economic realities and electoral activities would affect people’s mental health state and behavior generally.
Obayi noted that things get worse because anxieties are high and people find it challenging to get food, leading to depression and other concerns.
The health expert also advised individuals with mental health challenges to seek medical attention and help from a psychiatric facility.
“We are in a transition period, and a period of transition affects human beings in different ways, coupled with economic realities and hardships." Indeed, the Naira redesign worsened the economic hardships, which led to cash shortages. So all these will affect people’s mental health and behavior generally.
”If we take the two together, as I said, the transition can affect people’s mental health in many ways. One is a period of campaigning for the politicians. It is a period of increased stress because of campaigns and all it takes; it is a time of stress for the politicians. It is a period of increased activities involving nighttime activities, which keep you awake longer than before. If you like what they say, you spend a lot of time; if you don’t, you get angry.
”The other angle has to do with the period after the election. If you like the result, you can be excited; if you don’t, you can be disturbed. One’s predisposition to excitement or anger can affect one’s mental health.
“If you are angry with the result, yes, anything can happen." People will look at the money they have invested; they will look at the hopes they expected; they will look at their expectations; all these things will affect them. Even those who did not vote but were expecting a good government can feel their hopes dashed if they don’t like the outcome of the result.
”Now, in all these, you also remember that people with other responsibilities no longer attend to them as before." People leave their other work to go to campaigns, listen to people, vote, and invest, in one way or another, their time and energy in the electioneering process. All these affect the human mind, which is why they worsen when you bring them to the issue of an economy already in shambles.
“It gets worse because anxieties are high; they are high because things are getting more challenging and people are finding it difficult to get what to eat, which will lead to depression and other concerns.
“People have money but can’t have access to cash, leading to an inability to attend to basic needs. It is affecting both the traders and the buyers. It is also affecting the average person in different ways. "So that is a very major issue,” he said.
While noting that mental illnesses would lead to an increase in violent behavior, depression, and anxiety, Obayi called on people who get overworked or involved in politics to get access to a health facility for evaluation.
He also explained that adjustment disorder, a situation in which people find it difficult to adjust to the current reality, would become common months after the elections.
”Now in all these, going for campaigns, campaigning for people, going to vote and staying long for results, being a thug for political candidates, and staying awake at night for one thing or another will affect behavior.
“All these will affect people, especially those vulnerable to developmental illness." Then those who are not vulnerable or those who have had mental illness before but may have recovered can increase the reemergence of the illness.
“Of course, we don’t have the figure, but basically, mental illnesses will increase things like violent behavior, depression, and anxiety. What we call adjustment disorder will increase, and that one will not come now; it will come many months after the election.
”By adjustment disorder, we mean that people will find it difficult to adjust to the current situation." People are finding it difficult to adjust to the Naira scarcity situation.
“After the election, those who invested a lot but failed will find it more difficult to adjust because in every position, a very good number of people contested it, and at the end of the day, only one person will emerge. So those who spent money, those who borrowed money, and those who invested either as contestants themselves or as sponsors of contestants will find it difficult to adjust to the current reality months after the elections, and they will develop what we call adjustment disorder.
“Generally, the transition on its own is an issue that can affect the mental state of everybody in one way or another,” the health expert said.
He added, ”Prevention is better than cure when it comes to mental illness." All the mental disorders that develop are not new; they have existed before. In this case, we are saying that economic hardship or electioneering is the major risk factor or predisposing factor. So, prevention is better than cure.
“Sometimes, there are things that we cannot prevent." The management strategy is that people who get overworked or involved in politics should get access to a health facility for evaluation. That is the first step; they should not wait for symptoms to manifest. When one notices symptoms like poor sleep, restlessness, unnecessary easy irritability, and getting angry more than one is used to, one should not wait until they become fully blown.
”On the other hand, if somebody starts just having thoughts out of nowhere that he is the one that won an election when there are no facts or that he has lost when he has no evidence to support either way, one should seek medical attention. Again, when one starts thinking that life is worthless, whether it is due to economic hardship or the outcome of an election, one should also seek medical attention.
”In a full-blown state of mental illness, there is a need to seek medical attention and help from a psychiatric facility."
“The government should be sincere, and when they have good intentions or policies, they should communicate them to the people and keep to whatever they have decided. "When government says one thing and does another, the citizenry loses confidence or hope in the government.”