Terwase was born with a rare condition, known as Catatonic Schizophrenia, that made him unable to walk. He had to use a wheelchair for most of his life, and he faced many challenges and difficulties because of his disability. He often felt lonely, isolated, and depressed, as he struggled to fit in with his peers and society. He was bullied at school, discriminated against at work, and rejected by many people. At 30 years old, he felt like he had no purpose or meaning in life, and he wished he could be normal like everyone else.
As the years passed, Tewase’s mental health deteriorated. He began to withdraw from social gatherings, his once-vibrant smile fading into the shadows. Loneliness crept into his life like a relentless storm, isolating him from the world he yearned to be a part of.
One day, as Tewase was sitting alone in his modest home, contemplating the life he had come to accept, he received an unexpected visit from the Society for Family Health, an NGO dedicated to helping youths and other people with disabilities, during one of its community medical and psychosocial support outreach around the metropolis of Markurdi.
According to him, after two months of skill acquisition training, “My life took a new turn as I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. With the NGO’s assistance, I received the necessary training and resources to become a tech expert in Programming.” As he began teaching elementary computer studies at a local school, Tewase found his purpose and passion reigniting. While this is only one story of resilience and hope, many others aren’t so lucky.
According to a report by the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper in 2022, it was estimated that over 25 million individuals in Nigeria were living with disabilities. Additionally, the World Disability report projected that this number might potentially increase further in 2023. Nearly half of the people in Nigeria are women and about 20 percent of them live with disabilities. As women are faced with sexual and gender-based violence, gender pay gap, gender divide, financial exclusion and limited opportunities, those living with one form of disability or the other are dealing with the challenges, including access to facilities.
In January 2023 during one of my visits to Makurdi, Benue State, I encountered a young woman, Mimidoo* who was willing to share her story after a third meeting. She stated, “at the age of 8, I was first diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder, now known as ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). This diagnosis led to my transition from a regular classroom setting to specialised education. My teachers, at that time, shared my concerns with my parents about my prospects, suggesting that I might not graduate from primary school, let alone attend college.”
She further revealed, “When I was 19, I faced a new challenge: the development of Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder affecting my hearing and balance. This condition left me in a constant state of anxiety, as I knew that I could lose my hearing permanently at any moment.” One unsettling memory that still lingered, causing her some form of trauma was an incident with a former caregiver who exploited this vulnerability of hers.
She recalled that, “during a one-on-one meeting, my caregiver suddenly stopped speaking, while his lips continued to move, thinking I had suddenly gone deaf, started to peck me and caress my arms and neck against my will despite some form of bodily resistance. He continued and raped me.”
This horrible experience eroded Mimidoo’s self-confidence, but she remained steadfast in her belief that she could make a meaningful contribution to society. Motivated in part by the adversities she faced and thinking because of her low educational background, Mimidoo went to seek further education at the Benue State University, Makurdi and pursued a business management degree. Shortly after graduation, she entered the field of business marketing.
Despite her educational achievements at the University and being privileged in getting a job after graduation with a marketing start-up, Mimidoo continued to encounter stigma and discrimination at her workplace. Many of my work experiences left me feeling ashamed, guilty, offended, and at times, even intimidated. Instead of boosting my confidence, these experiences left me demoralised, solely because I was different and disabled.
Terwase and Mimidoo were born with disabilities, but Rachael Tsenongo* who acquired her disability as an adult through an accident has not found life to be pleasant.
Prior to the accident where she lost her husband, Rachel, a single mum (of 2), I shared that “I thoroughly enjoy spending a significant amount of my time outdoors, enjoying moments when my husband and I go out together. Our walks at the riverside are some of my favourite activities, and I find immense joy in the company of other people there, especially fellow parents and their children who engage in playful activities.”
However, this is no longer possible as Rachel lost her husband after a car accident in 2020. Her husband died of brain injuries
She said “I became paralysed and have faced serious mental health challenges till today. My ‘headache’ became profound, and I was diagnosed with insomnia later in August 2021. During visits, both my husband’s family members and mine by what some might term “traditional families,” occasionally emphasised the challenges of being a single parent.”
She further noted, “Loneliness and depression became a persistent companion as my friends suddenly became engrossed in their own family commitments and couldn’t be there for us on weekends or holidays. Times like Easter and public holidays were particularly difficult for single parents like me, and at those moments, I often felt like the loneliest single parent in the world. The opportunity to connect with other adults seemed scarce.”
During one of my psychosocial support sessions in Makurdi, Onoja, shared her story where she recalled that “my journey into disability began 6 years ago when I had a stroke in my left arm, it appeared one night and never left. The room was spinning, my heart was racing, I was crying and panicking, and I was alone. I clung to the bedpost and called an emergency doctor, a close family friend who arrived an hour later and diagnosed me with Ischemic Stroke. He gave me tablets and said it would settle down. It didn’t.
Further, she disclosed that “I found myself in a challenging situation as I had to take a medical leave from my job as a health and social caregiver at a big private school. It was a period of immense uncertainty and marked the beginning of a rollercoaster journey that was both frightening and enlightening. I was isolated in my home without any family or close friends nearby to support me. My physical condition was so debilitating that I had to crawl around my house, and my self-confidence slowly eroded without me realising it” she revealed.
“Every day, I struggled to get out of bed, clinging to whatever I could find and trying to catch my breath. To make matters worse, I began experiencing daily migraines that exacerbated my stroke, along with breathing difficulties, persistent vomiting, and dangerously high blood pressure that led to multiple trips to the emergency room. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stabilise my blood pressure, and I eventually collapsed due to a drop in potassium caused by the medication I was prescribed.
“This challenging period also introduced me to anxiety for the first time in my life, which only intensified my existing symptoms.” My closest friend, though physically distant, offered me a lifeline through phone support but close family relatives and friends became so busy,” she added.
During my conversations with Onoja, she seems to constantly blame herself for her illnesses and relentlessly attacks her already fragile self-esteem. It became increasingly difficult to imagine a path to recovery or reintegration into life.
Adding to her stress, she stated, “I was informed that my sick leave was limited as private schools in the state are often concerned about their clients and customers to three months before my pay would be reduced. This created immense anxiety as I worried about how I would manage bills and sustenance within the Nigerian economy if I couldn’t return to work.”
From my observation, she often berated herself with negative self-talk, labelling herself as weak for not handling the situation better. Throughout this ordeal, it became painfully evident that there was a severe lack of mental health support available.
To reiterate, she stated, “There was absolutely no assistance offered. I, a once-healthy 35-year-old with a stable job, found myself severely disabled overnight with no financial resources to seek treatment, all while living alone. The enormity of adapting to my physical disability and its emotional toll seemed like an insurmountable mountain to climb.”
According to the Nigerian Guardian, major forms of disability among women include visual, hearing, physical, intellectual and communication impairment. It further reported women who have risen above the challenges and adversity life has placed in their paths. Another instance is Yemisi Isado, a 42 year-old woman, who did not have a hearing impairment from birth but rather acquired it during her early childhood. She noted, “I didn’t know I had an ear problem until I was 10. Then I remember that my mum was taking me to different places including a teaching hospital and native doctors who prescribed all sorts of drugs and treatment without a solution. I started living with the impairment and attended the Hearing School, Special College of Education, Oyo in Oyo State.”
Isado, who is the Chairperson of the Deaf Women Association, Lagos State Chapter, says life is not easy when you live with people who can hear, as some of them are averse to her condition. “I once had a friend who didn’t know I was deaf because I can talk. One day, I told her I can’t hear her well and she exclaimed. When some people greet me and I don’t respond, they say I am too proud until they are told that I cannot hear. Some people think that deaf or disabled people are not human beings, but it is good to show that we can also do what they do. “I am a businesswoman and I am proud of myself. I have a child who is a university graduate. We have feelings and senses just like you, so we are equal but we face many challenges, especially communication barriers,” she told The Nigerian Guardian.
What is common to all individuals with disabilities is they encounter difficulty in accessing health services largely due to communication barriers, physical appearances, visual challenges or any other impairment. Some used to go to the general hospital, but would stop because the nurses, doctors or healthcare workers were constantly embarrassing them. For some during my visit to three local health centres in Makurdi – Wilmayo, North Bank 2 and Modern Market, I observed when they called names to get attended to, some were screamed at, insulted, and called unpleasant ‘names’. The embarrassment often gets so much that they seek alternative methods of treatment.
However, while some individuals with disabilities had learned to navigate the uneven streets of life all alone with remarkable resilience, the real battle I discovered was inside the mind. Living with a disability in a society like Nigeria that often turns a blind eye to the challenges they face takes a toll on their mental health – poor communication, depression, insomnia, reduced self-esteem and breakdown of relationships on the whole.
Individuals with disabilities in Nigeria faced discrimination and some instances, pity from strangers, struggled to find accessible spaces and often had their dreams repeatedly curled by societal limitations. Many have always dreamt of becoming high-profile personnel in society, but the barriers ‘seem insurmountable and I hope the media, healthcare providers in government and private hospitals, and non-governmental organisations would harmonise efforts to change the situation.
To address the unique challenges faced by these vulnerable groups, it is crucial to prioritise their mental well-being and ensure their inclusion in society. One approach is to develop comprehensive policies that promote disability inclusion and protect the rights of women with disabilities. The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act passed in 2018 is an example of legislation aimed at preventing discrimination based on disability1. Such laws provide a legal framework for safeguarding the rights of women with disabilities and can contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination. Programs focused on mental health awareness and support can also play a significant role.
These programs should aim to increase public awareness about mental health issues faced by women with disabilities and provide accessible mental health services. By destigmatising mental health challenges and ensuring access to appropriate care, women with disabilities can receive the support they need to improve their well-being. Interventions from the government should prioritise the provision of accessible mental health services tailored to the specific needs of women with disabilities.
This includes ensuring physical accessibility of healthcare facilities, training healthcare professionals on disability-inclusive practices, and integrating mental health services into existing healthcare systems. By implementing these policies, programs, and interventions, the Nigerian government can contribute to improving the mental health outcomes of women living with disabilities. It is essential to recognize their unique experiences and provide them with the necessary support to lead fulfilling lives.
Caleb Onah is a Freelance writer and Journalist, currently writing for Psychreg, United Kingdom. He can be reached via, firstname.lastname@example.org