Mentally ill Schizophrenic making drawings on the ground
2012- Chained mentally ill patient at S.B. Esanwi’s rehab in Niger Delta. Photo: Robin Hammond/Panos. Source:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized outwardly by tearing at clothing and ultimate nakedness, in southern Nigeria. This condition, not to be mistaken for the affective or less severe and chronic ailments such as psychosis and psychoneuroses, is prevalent among the patients kept in Aro hospital near Abeokuta. In the 1900s, the Southern Provinces of Nigeria launched an asylum policy with the enactment of laws for confining lunatics, empowering the governor to establish lunatic asylums, which turned out to be purely custodial. Since the 1950s, Yoruba healers had used an effective psychotropic drug derived from the plant rauwolfia that is chemically similar to the phenoziathines used in western countries to treat psychosis.

In Psychiatric Disorder among the Yoruba, Adeoye Lambo, working with the Leightons and others, replicated the Stirling County study concerned with the epidemiology of poor mental health condition. Even though only seventeen percent of adults are asserted in the Stirling study to be free of all symptoms of psychiatric significance, an even lower fraction is recorded for the native people in Lambo’s investigation. Another marked difference with the Stirling study was that a smaller ratio of people in the Nigerian study stand in need of some sort of psychiatric attention. Yoruba showed a higher prevalence than in Stirling County of psychiatric symptoms based primarily on organic disorder, due to the greater degree of endemic physical disease and malnutrition among these African people. Generally speaking, the similarity between pattern and prevalence of psychiatric disorder in Stirling County and the Yoruba were more impressive than the difference. One of such similarities was the strong association of better mental heath with higher level of social integration.

Asylum or Neuropsychiatric hospital in Aro, near Abeokuta, conceived by the eminent medical specialist, Adeoye Lambo in 1954. The hospital provides primary, secondary and specialised hospital and community-based mental health services, as well as training and research. The Aro village system was developed on the Gheel model, a community-based mental health care facility in Belgium. Aro remains the most important and prestigious psychiatric hospital in Nigeria. In 2015, Aro was ranked sixth in Africa by the Web of World Hospitals based in Spain.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer