If you watched Ruona Meyer’s “Sweet Codeine”, the documentary that won her an Emmy nomination and showed the true impact of contemporary investigative journalism on government policy, then you probably didn’t miss the documentary’s lowest point. Halfway through the film, Meyer visits a mental health facility, where her crew films men and women allegedly suffering from mental illness exacerbated by drug use chained by their hands and feet. While the documentary made casual mention of the fact that immobilizing human beings in this way is inhumane, it didn’t really bother to explore further what justifications the treatment centre had to treat even mentally ill persons this way.
The events of the last few weeks have brought into sharp focus, the fact that treatment centres like the one featured in Meyer’s interview, usually run by religious leaders are little more than torture chambers for people struggling with ill-health or considered disappointments by their families. There have reports of religious rehabilitation centres being raided by the Nigerian police in Kano and Kaduna states, where residents were starved of food, tortured and immobilized by chains and other restraints to keep them from escaping. Some residents had lived there for years, abandoned by their families who didn’t want to deal with the stigma of having a mentally ill family member. The trauma these people have experienced at these centres are inestimable and these facilities raided and victims rescued are only a miniscule fraction of the violence being meted out in the name of religious rehabilitation across the country.
There are many calls for the activities of religious organizations to be investigated and regulated. These torture rehabilitation centers, put in stark focus, the urgency of this problem. People with mental health challenges should be treated only by qualified professionals with the knowledge and skill to effect treatment.