In a country with low awareness of mental health issues, one man is using art to help patients recover.

Whenever Kunle Adewale visit hospitals in Nigeria, it is not for medical check-ups or family visits but to help treat patients using art.

Kunle founded Tender Arts Nigeria in 2013 with a team of artists, dancers, musicians, and creative writers.

“As an artist, I realised that we have not fully maximised the healing and therapeutic potential of the Arts," he told TRT World

"There is such a huge gap between the art and healthcare sector, which shouldn’t be the case, especially with so much research backing the benefits of art in health.

“I was inspired to see how art can be used in different ways to transform the healthcare experience of patients and their caregivers.  This process allows patients and caregivers to express themselves through the arts.” 

Kunle prepares patients for medical procedures by integrating drawing, painting, murals, music, dance, storytelling, spoken word poetry and expressive writing into creative therapies.

They are part of an arts programme to help patients recover from their medical conditions within hospitals and hospices in Nigeria.

“We work with professional musicians and instrumentalists to facilitate our music in medicine sessions.”

“We sometimes request that patients write their own songs that they would like us to perform; I have seen this bring huge happiness, acceptance, and inclusion to persons with mental illness.” Adewale said.

Empathy

According to many Nigerians, most caregivers are not formally taught to have empathy for their patients and can sometimes be insensitive to their emotional and mental states.

They tend to be more concerned with delivering prescription treatments and discharging patients. This creates a gap between patients and caregivers and may adversely affect how patients tolerate their treatments. Similarly, some family members also isolate or distance sick members of their families, creating a huge gap in their support system. 

In terms of numbers, Nigeria is home to over 40 million people with sickle cell anaemia - More than any other country in the world; over 150,000 babies are born each year with sickle cell anaemia. 

While about 20 to 30 percent of Nigeria’s population is believed to suffer from mental disorders - a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million people.

Awareness and knowledge about mental illness in Nigeria are very poor due to the high level of stigma attached to the disease. 

Dr Abiola Akingbohungbe, a Psychiatric Nurse with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Center (CAMHC) says even the Nigerian government is yet to recognise mental health disorders as a big challenge.

A highly neglected syndrome

In 1991, Nigeria through the National Mental Health Action Committee under the Federal Ministry of Health adopted a mental health policy which placed the provision of mental health services at the Primary Health Care level. 

Around 22 years later,  however, the government acknowledged its failure to achieve its objectives and went on to review the policy.

Eventually, in 2013 it introduced National Policy for Mental Health Services Delivery, which the government says "reaffirms its commitment to the provision of quality services that are accessible to most people in the country."

However, the systems to support the delivery of services are still weak, with poor availability of psychotropic drugs and other services. 

Creating space for acceptance and conversation

Blessing Alexander, a sixteen-year-old girl has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mixed anxiety-depressive disorder—mental health conditions that help induce irritability and violent anger. Blessing lashes out angrily at her parents, siblings, and every other person around her.

“I have anger issues; I am always aggressive, mostly with my mum at home," she said, adding:

“I know I am stubborn and my anger was too much. I easily use a knife or any object to hit anybody around me whenever I get upset. But now, I think it has stopped.” 

She says the Tender Arts and CAMHC programme has proven to be the most effective form of health care, even for mental health illnesses.

Blessing says she likes the murals put up by the organisations because it makes the facility feel like home and not like a hospital, 

“You know I was frustrated but when I come out here and see the colours, it cheers me up and lightens up my spirit.

“I like the lion drawn on the wall. I am the firstborn in my family, so I feel like I am the head and the lion makes me feel bold, strong and determined to heal quickly.” She said, looking intermittently at the artwork on the wall.

Vero Udufo, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at the CAMHC says adolescence is a particularly turbulent period for mental health growth.

“It comes with a lot of conflicts while growing up, it’s a time when they are trying to discover themselves while their parents or adults around them expect them to think and behave as adults do.

“But it becomes a problem when they are not ready for this new life. And if parents are not careful, the children get triggered into depression which affects their mental health.” Vero said. 

Walls decorated by Tender Arts Nigeria
Walls decorated by Tender Arts Nigeria (Valentine Iwenwanne / TRTWorld)

Dr Mashudat Bello-Mojeed Chief, a psychiatrist at the CAMHC says the murals made by Tender Arts Nigeria were fascinating and therapeutic. 

“The children saw the ongoing beautiful wall painting during one of their ward rounds and became interested in being part of the process.

“The elevation of their mood was the first thing we observed and seeing that they actually did this was gratifying for them.” She told TRT World.

“Our partnership since 2017 has no doubt been rewarding for our patients, especially for children and adolescents.” She added.

Source: TRT World