The moving story of Terhemen Anongo, a former medical student who became a porter after depression forced him out of the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, at 500 level, has attracted reactions from different quarters.
While many showed empathy for the 43-year-old man, some blamed his father for forcing the course on him. Others however chided him for failing to rise above the hurdles to complete his study.
Scores of people, who read Anongo’s pathetic experience published in an interview by Saturday PUNCH, sought medical and financial help for the 43-year-old, urging individuals, government and civil society organisations to urgently come to his aid.
As of 6pm on Saturday, the report had received 933 comments, over 1,900 likes and 338 shares on Facebook; 73 comments and 736 likes on Instagram; 59 retweets and 45 comments on Twitter. On PUNCH’s website, it attracted 36 comments.
Anongo had narrated his long, gruelling battle with depression, culminating in his dropout from the university a year to his graduation.
From his father’s refusal to allow him study his choice course (Petroleum Engineering) to the demanding nature of memorising medical jargons, Anongo, who now earns a living via pushing a wheelbarrow, gave a compelling account of how depression crept into his life after he gained admission to the UI during the 1996/97 session and consequently overwhelmed him.
He said, “First of all, it was never my desire to study Medicine. I graduated from secondary school and had the best results. I loved Physics and Mathematics, so I wanted to study Engineering, Petroleum Engineering to be precise. I got the University Matriculation Examination (now Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination) form and filled it and took it to my dad who was a Mathematics teacher but my dad said no; he said he had some Indian teachers who told him that the best course for me to study was Medicine.
“But when I got to medical school, I realised that Medicine is about cramming, memorising terminologies whose origin you don’t know. I lost interest in academic work but I still managed to pass and got to the teaching hospital. I dropped out when I was in 500 Level because I was suffering from severe depression, which made me lose interest in medical school. Though at a point I tried to go back, the authorities did not allow me.”
Anongo recalled how the alleged hostile learning environment contributed to his dropout and attempted suicide. As his condition worsened, he removed one of his testicles in a desperate bid to castrate himself and reduce his sexual urge.
“Even now that I have removed one testicle, the temptation still goes on (laughs). Now that I have removed one testicle, the sexual urge has escalated (laughs),” he added.
The story has drawn a lot of comments from Nigerians with many seeking a new lease of life for the poor porter.
On PUNCHonline, a reader, Picolo Adamu, said mental illness could be very debilitating, especially for someone struggling with poverty, noting that the health challenge was poorly managed in Nigeria.
He wrote, “There are many people like this man in almost every part of Nigeria. Apparently, Nigeria prides itself as a ‘developing country.’ In countries of the world belonging to the 21st century – whether developed or developing – governments invest on support services to care for people like this man. The reason behind this is that the society will always have people who are vulnerable, and who will need welfare support.”
Another reader identified only as Okon said any help for Anongo should begin with mental evaluation and treatment, adding that “his story does indeed touch the heart.”
One Theophilus appealed to Nigerians and non-governmental organisations to rally round Anongo and ensure he regained his mental health.
He added, “The first thing to do is to get him well. Seek a mental institution that can take up his case. Let’s work through relations particularly now that the mother is still alive or NGO that manages such persons. They’re all over the places.
“How much can you put in the hand of a man pushing a cart around? When he’s certified okay then you can entrust him with money. Whatever money we want to give him now should be channelled at getting him well. Afterwards we can empower him.”
On Facebook, one Oyeladun Oluwashinaayomi, said depression is a serious and most dangerous situation to deal with.
He wrote, “Depression is a state of mind producing long-term lowering of enjoyment of life or inability to visualise a happy future. When you are depressed, it could lead to something bad and the outcome could be calamitous. Nobody should please apportion blame to this man especially when you have not experienced depression before.
“Advice to the man: Please seek for the divine help of God and meet those who understand your conditions to give you the right encouragement, not the people that will add fuel to the already burning fire.”
One Samuel Obasi said Anongo’s sad tale was a reflection of a failed system that made his condition to deteriorate.
He stated, “In a better society someone giving up an almost completed journey would be guided by counsellors who would have found out he was depressed on time and this would have saved his career. He had a problem but a failed system allowed it to fester.”
Another commentator, Oyetola Adedoja, said with proper care from relevant authorities, Anongo would overcome the situation.
An Instagram user, alias msmottbakes, described the porter’s story as sad and avoidable if he had received the needed help.
“Mental health issue is still swept under the carpet in our society. Instead of it being treated as an ailment just like cancer or malaria, our people will ‘spiritualise’ everything….If it’s not witches, they will say it’s demons. Such a waste! May he get the needed assistance. Amen.”
Sugarjay007 urged the Nigerian government to take mental health seriously as done in other parts of the world.
“So sad, no support for those with mental health issues in Nigeria even a medical student. Hope this trend will change in future when there is effective governance,” one dr_a_okey also wrote on Instagram.
Another reader on the platform, Chidi_outdoors, stated that Anongo needed strong family and health care support to get him out of depression.
The reader added, “It’s sad to read this post but this happens often. We lack affordable mental health care in Nigeria and their (depressed persons’) care is such that they cannot just switch back to normal. They’ll need medication, therapy or both, hence why we see them either roaming on the streets or chained to a tree. It’s just a sad situation.”
On Twitter, one Jackie @Nmaezi, demanded that Anongo be given psychiatric help so that “he can be useful to himself and society,” adding that “mental health deserves due attention.”
@Iko acknowledged that Anongo “has mental disorder,” appealing to the government and well-meaning Nigerians to take care of him.