Following the apathy, insensitivity and wickedness that resulted in the October 20 Lekki massacre, the youths are angry. They are anxious. The feeling of hopelessness stemming from Nigeria’s years of government neglect and police brutality are no longer hidden. Some of the youths may even become suicidal.
The circumstances that preceded the #ENDSARS movement and the outcomes of the demonstration have shown that there are large numbers of individuals, looking to alleviate the despair rooted in the experience of traumatisation. Nigerian youths have been exposed to death and threatened by death for so long, which has resulted in a desperate fight back. This only shows that there is need to strengthen various aspects of the well-being – emotional, physical, cognitive and social – of Nigerian youths, and the time is now. Those who do not feel the direct impact of the plight of Nigerian youths have only been able to turn a blind eye to the situation. In the coming months and years, the demands of the youths could be met. However, one factor that is certain is the spike in cases of trauma-related illnesses in the youth population, likely to manifest soon. Government and related agencies must consider putting measures in place to urgently address the situation. Untreated trauma diminishes the quality of life for the individuals involved and may lead to mental breakdown. It is important to provide the victims and their families, including officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the legitimate line of duty, some professional attention and evaluation.
This is the time to empathise with grieving families, time for trauma processing and grief counselling. To expect that young Nigerians should just get over their feelings will be tragic. Hence, those in public service who took oaths of office to represent ordinary citizens in the National Assembly, the judiciary and the executive branch should focus on restoring a sense of safety in their constituents by implementing measures to address the situation and providing free counselling centres for Nigerians, especially the youth population. The government is aware that the general public has been exposed to violent deaths and violent events in the past few years, which have reached alarming proportions in the last two weeks, after Nigeria celebrated 60 years of her independence.
The Lekki Toll Gate shooting and killing of unarmed youths who were peacefully protesting against brutality by the infamous killers of dreams and future leaders, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the militarisation of police departments, the serial incompetence and tyrannical government, nepotism, insecurity, politics of godfatherism, corruption, social and structural changes, illustrate the pervasiveness of unrest in Africa’s most populous nation. It is obvious that police violence deeply traumatises those who are targeted by it. It is also traumatising that soldiers, who ought to be patriotic, were allegedly heard on videos circulating on social media, saying to innocent protesters, who were singing the national anthem and waving the flag, that the flag is not bulletproof. There are some people who experience these traumas vicariously, especially as it relates to watching footage of dead bodies and the countless videos of police violence against protesters in recent days across the country.
Undoubtedly, such violent events will continue to expose more people to emotional, physical, and psychological trauma and also grief. Thus this is neither the time for the federal and state governments to remain mute or make speeches that only align with political talking points that break the human spirit, nor the time to issue threats. Contrarily, this is the time for local, state and federal governments to empathise with a grieving nation and work together, enlist experts in the psychological effects of trauma, trained crisis intervention counsellors, trauma-informed therapists, social workers, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, to provide grief counselling and grief therapy to any bereaved individual and families needing help.
The overall goal of grief counseling is to help the survivor adapt to the loss of a loved one and be able to adjust to a new reality without him or her. There are specific goals that correspond to the four tasks of mourning: (1) increasing the reality of the loss; (2) helping the counselee deal with both the emotional and behavioural pain…
Evidently, Nigeria has a culture of silencing freedom of expression, so it will likely be difficult to acknowledge the urgency of allowing mourners to heal by sharing their experiences with trained, helping professionals. Grief counselling can be done within the context of a group. This is not only very efficient but can also be an effective way to offer the emotional support a bereaved person is seeking. It does not necessarily have to take place in a professional office. It can take place in a hospital, school environment, church and/or mosque premises, home environment and various other informal settings. Grief therapy, on the other hand, would be more appropriate in a professional setting, rather than in a home environment or in an informal setting.
Goals of Grief Counselling
The overall goal of grief counseling is to help the survivor adapt to the loss of a loved one and be able to adjust to a new reality without him or her. There are specific goals that correspond to the four tasks of mourning: (1) increasing the reality of the loss; (2) helping the counselee deal with both the emotional and behavioural pain; (3) helping the counselee overcome various impediments to readjustment after the loss; and (4) helping the counselee find a way to maintain a bond with the deceased, while feeling comfortable reinvesting in life.
Many of the normal grief behaviours may seem like manifestations of depression. Also, Evidence-Based Therapy or Practice EBT/EBP has shown that individuals can be traumatised by seeing images of real violence that didn’t happen to them directly. It is referred to as “vicarious traumatisation”. Sometimes therapists, by talking and working with people who have been through trauma, can go on to have nightmares about the patient’s trauma, or other emotional reactions that impact our day-to-day lives. This leads to therapist burnout.
There’s another piece to it, which is for anyone who has been through trauma, seeing videos of people going through trauma can trigger issues related to his or her own trauma, or symptoms of Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) that the individual has dealt with previously. So individuals who were abused in the past by a partner or parent or someone else, might begin to relive those experiences if they see videos of police brutality, even if their trauma was not caused by police brutality. There will also be individuals who would witness and/or watch these footage of human suffering on such a large scale and have somatic, or physical reactions, such as insomnia, or nightmare.
It has become a necessity that the Nigerian government provides counselling units for the general public. However, they must make sure that only trained therapists in Trauma-Informed Care i.e.,“Trauma-Informed therapists” are hired. The professionals should be able to focus on the strengths of individuals seeking therapy and work with them to develop a repertoire of resiliency and trauma-resistant skills.
Following the apathy, insensitivity and wickedness that resulted in the October 20 Lekki massacre, the youths are angry. They are anxious. The feeling of hopelessness stemming from Nigeria’s years of government neglect and police brutality are no longer hidden. Some of the youths may even become suicidal. Majority of them, their family members or friends, have experienced police brutality.
Following a traumatic event, it is usual for people to be troubled by memories of what happened and to feel on edge. One of the major hurdles for trauma patients is in reducing painful memories and perceptions, as they explore and learn to cope with their traumatic issues. Since victims of police brutality and traumatic events may display a myriad of physical and mental health issues. It has become a necessity that the Nigerian government provides counselling units for the general public. However, they must make sure that only trained therapists in Trauma-Informed Care i.e.,“Trauma-Informed therapists” are hired. The professionals should be able to focus on the strengths of individuals seeking therapy and work with them to develop a repertoire of resiliency and trauma-resistant skills. Free psychosocial support, which include structured counselling, case management, care-coordination and psychotherapy is more than ever essential.
It is very important to ensure that only professional therapists are involved. Trauma counselling and therapy is much more different from life coaching, which seems to have evolved in Nigeria now. Not everyone who can deliver motivation speeches is able to provide this service. It is also important that the non-professional give way to well trained and licensed persons to provide this much needed service to enable victims receive healing.
Chinna Okoroafor, a licensed psychotherapist, writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A.