Designing technology for mental health in Nigeria means doing twice the work, while jumping various hurdles, as we must, to accomplish anything here.
Ask any general health tech founder in Nigeria what it takes first and foremost to get doctors to use your product. You would have already run the marathon of building a fully functional application/website, but the doctors won’t take the baton from you. The notion that tech could actually make their lives easier is generally unfathomable, leaving innovators stuck with ideas no one wants to use.
For mental health in Nigeria and if tech could really help, I will focus on client-centered obstacles, leaving the challenges of passing mental health professionals the baton for another day. I chose this route because the majority of our mental health professionals are not millenials. They might very well still need help figuring out some tech applications. Any tech built for mental health in Nigeria in the next 3-5 years, will serve therapists who are either a few years into their career, or are just starting it.
The Main Hurdle – Awareness
We’re still at the early stages of mental health advancement in Nigeria, i.e awareness, education, informing people of the problems we want to fix. Mentally Aware Nigeria and She Writes Woman are currently doing a great job of solving this issue. That said, I’m not sure we know how many Nigerians understand the term “mental health”. If you could ask survivors of Boko Haram attacks, rescued Chibok girls, or residents of Otodo Gbame how they feel when anything reminiscent of their tragic experiences happens, their answers may highlight symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or severe anxiety. Whether or not they truly grasp how this affects their daily life is a different question. That first and foremost is where we must begin.
In such a situation, you don’t take an app designed in America, for Americans, and give it to these populations.
Solution? Your tech must:
- Be Nigerian- Speak our language to inform and create more awareness. The tech has to consider our cultural and religious nuances and be built accordingly.
What happens next? You’ve painstakingly broken down what mental health is to the average Nigerian (who is most likely unable to access this post). You’ve dismembered ingrained ideologies and put in fresh ones, while also navigating the cultural experiences that differ from person to person. Well done!
How do you surmount this next hurdle without falling flat on your face and leaving this person with no solution for a problem they weren’t aware of? Tell them to get help? Take them to a psychiatric clinic? Design an application that tiptoes around the stigma of accessing care? What population will it serve? Will it be in pidgin or English?
Let’s imagine you answered all those questions and you’ve built a functioning tool. A user (in any demographic) is ready to get the help he/she needs, but this innovation doesn’t respond how they’d like.
For example, as with PsyndUp, the user requests to talk to a therapist. Unfortunately, the person/therapist on the other end has no power/wifi to respond before the user changes their minds. The technology, rather than making this choice easier, then begins to reinforce the idea that maybe, getting help isn’t that necessary.
- Be Passive – the less effort users apply in using the tech, the easier it will be to adopt,
We’ll try a different route and say your awesome developers built an ERP that made the inquiry process seamless; Great!
Your user has now booked a session, messaged a therapist, or accessed some resources. They enjoyed the conversations so much, they want to keep going. However, it’s not so affordable anymore. The government only allocates about N45 per person, per year, for mental health care because it’s not a sexy enough problem.
- Be Affordable – Be close to free for users in Nigeria, because the average Nigerian is struggling to put food on their table. Healthcare shouldn’t be a burden as well.
So, if you’re passionate about mental health in Nigeria and see tech as a tool to disrupt this field, your innovation must have a timeline that tackles every single one of these problems and more along the way. Whether or not it looks like they’re solving it every day is irrelevant. What’s important is that one day, someone will wonder how to improve their emotional well-being, and your innovation will be there, exhausted from jumping hurdles but ready to change a life.