Managing mental health conditions among army officers



By Sumaila Ogbaje, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

(News Analysis) Unarguably, mental health conditions are similar among sufferers, irrespective of class, profession or instances.

Similarly, neurologists note that mental health conditions experienced by personnel are the same among the public, although transition from to civil life may contribute to the frequency of the condition among officers.

According to them, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and substance abuse affect a significant minority of personnel and veterans.

Beside this assertion, a number of UK studies have found links between active service and mental health problems in armed service personnel involved in conflicts, wars and peace support operations across the globe.

A very recent study of 10,000 serving personnel comprising 83 per cent regulars and 27 per cent reservists, found lower than expected levels of PTSD.

Nonetheless, neurologists insist that common mental disorders and alcohol misuse are the most frequently reported mental health problems among UK armed forces personnel.

However, in Nigeria, leadership has been engaged in restoring sanity at the continental level through the African Union (AU) medium and then regionally through the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as we have seen over the years.

The armed forces have been involved in several internal security operations such as counter-insurgency operations in the North East, anti-banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and farmer-herder clashes operations in the North West and North Central part of the country.

The South East is currently troubled by the activities of a proscribed secession group, while the South-South and south-western parts are faced with the activities of oil thieves and economic saboteurs as well as kidnapping.

These issues and many more have led to massive deployment of military personnel to various theatres operation to combat the fore bearing menace which are likely to set the ground for trauma.

According to experts, exposure to traumatic events, such as war, conflict, natural and human-made disasters, assault and life-threatening illnesses are common, with over two thirds of the general population likely to be exposed to a traumatic incident in their lifetime.

It is against this backdrop that the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives (NAOWA) led by Mrs Fati Attahiru, conceived and initiated the establishment NAOWA Wellness Centre.

The centre is to provide services that will meet the mental, emotional and psychological needs of the military personnel, their families and the public.

During the ground-breaking of the centre on April 26 at Mambilla Barracks in Asokoro , the President of NAOWA and wife of the chief of army staff, Mrs Attahiru, told the guests that she was conscious of the fact that grief, loss of a loved one, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse and mental instability, among others, were all real, noting that the wellness centre would be a haven for them to speak out and collectively find solutions.

According to her, the centre signifies hope and gives her the rare opportunity of taking the front seat to an need that will better the lives of the people.

She said that the initiative was borne out of several desperate calls from of the barrack community and, in some cases, friends of the military who had directly or indirectly battled with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“I hope that by the end of this event, we would have been able to give you an insight to some of these issues and justify why this wellness centre is not a luxury but a place we urgently need.

“This centre when completed will not work closely with the Nigerian Army Medical Corps, it will go a step further to highlight the benefits of using the centre to its men and soldiers and encourage soldiers returning from war fronts to undergo sessions before reuniting with their families.

“Research has shown that several families are broken due to the fact that soldiers are traumatised after returning from the battlefield.

“This major problem is sorted the directive from the chief of army staff holistically addresses the stigma associated with seeking help and I applaud him for making this happen,’’ she said.

Mrs Attahiru said that with NAOWA’s strong support network and spread across all geopolitical zones, the wellness centre would be set up in at least each of the six geo-political zones to enable the barrack community to have seamless access.

She, however, solicited the support of and partnership with the government, state governors, corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals in the area of technical, financial and infrastructure to make the centre a reality, explaining that the centre would be ready for use in six .

The speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, who performed the ground-breaking for the centre, commended NAOWA for the initiative and appreciated officers and soldiers of Nigerian Army who sacrificed their lives for the peace and security of the nation.

Gbajabiamila said that the project would provide opportunity for the Nigerian Army and the society to the needs of the and the mind of both serving and non-serving officers who had been involved in fighting wars.

He said that sickness, wellness and health were not just about the or physical health but the mental and the soul, adding that the mind is more powerful than the .

According to him, wellness is an essential ingredient in living a healthy and fulfilling life, a healthy and sound mind.

The speaker said that more than 50 million Nigerians were affected by mental illness as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and stress related issues and called for support from governors, legislators and well-meaning Nigerians to support NAOWA’s plan to have the centre in all the states of the federation.

Also, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the initiative would preventive and curative as well as rehabilitative health, saying that the centre would not serve the military but all of the society when completed.

Ehanire said that there were prevalent of physical and mental abuses leading to emotional and mental stress, which according to him, is understandable in the military of the strain of the profession such as anxiety and survival issues.

The centre has attracted accolades from the wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari, governors, of the National Assembly and corporate organiations as well as well-meaning individuals who have described the initiative of NAOWA as timely and well-conceived.

While some promised to support the project financially, some promised to offer strategic support and partnership to make the project a reality.(NANFeatures)