Catholic Charity’s Trauma Counseling Program to Handle Rising Mental Cases in Nigeria

Credit: DHPI

The Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has embarked on training of community volunteers in Nigeria’s Anambra State to equip them with psychosocial skills to provide care to mentally challenged people in the West African country.

In a Tuesday, August 23 interview with ACI Africa, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, said that thousands of victims of terrorist attacks in Nigeria have developed mental challenges owing to the killings and displacements they have witnessed, and are roaming the streets of Anambra without any form of psychosocial support.

To help the mentally challenged people deal with their trauma, the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) is working with members of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus (HHCJ) in Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia to equip the community volunteers with skills in handling trauma and cases of bereavement.

Mr. Viljoen said that many victims of attacks in Nigeria who have seen their homes and farms destroyed and their loved ones killed have had mental breakdowns and are now roaming the streets “as demented homeless people”.

“There is an urgent need for psychosocial support,” he said, and added, “We are training 30 community members as trauma and bereavement counselors to fill the need.”


Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa that two DHPI collaborators have traveled to Nigeria’s Anambra State from South Africa to facilitate the training, which started on Tuesday, August 23 and is expected to end on Saturday, August 27.

He said that the training, which had been scheduled to start on August 22 was moved a day forward owing to the sit-at-home advisory that has been given in Southeast Nigeria. Nigerians in the embattled Southern States stay at home on Mondays for fear of attacks.

With the help of the members of HHCJ who are already running a feeding program for the victims of terrorist attacks in Anambra, DHPI identified the 30 community workers who are undergoing the five-day training at St Jude’s Church in Umuchukwu.

Also co-facilitating the program is Sr. Nkiru Ezedinachi, a HHCJ member who has been moving around, feeding the mentally challenged and homeless people who have been displaced by militants from across Nigeria.

In an interview with ACI Africa earlier this year, Sr. Nkiru said that Anambra State is among regions that are witnessing a rising number of people suffering from mental breakdown owing to militant activities of Boko Haram in the Northern parts of Nigeria and the Fulani herdsmen in the Central and Southern parts of the country.

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In the March interview, The Nigerian Catholic Nun said that many unknown people are roaming the streets of Anambra “in disturbed conditions”.

“We see people that are non-locals. They speak languages that we have not heard. That tells us that not all of them are here. But we take care of them all,” she told ACI Africa during the March 30 interview.

In a past report, DHPI noted that the level of trauma that victims of terror attacks in Nigeria have been through is incomprehensible, adding, “They have watched family members killed, their bodies dismembered, women and children raped, leaving them mentally deranged, starving and fighting for survival on the streets as no counselling or support is provided.”

Meanwhile, DHPI has expressed concern that attacks against Christians in Nigeria are “orchestrated from high-level ranks” with the aim of “wiping out Christianity” especially in the Southern parts of the country.

In the August 23 interview with ACI Africa, the DHPI Director expressed fears that the western world, specifically the U.S., could already have been too blinded by an interest in Nigeria’s natural resources to approach the country’s security situation objectively.


“In three years, Nigeria has registered more acts of religious-based violence than anywhere in the world. But when the U.S. Secretary of State visited Nigeria recently, and only met with top government officials and not Christian leaders, the country was removed from the list of countries experiencing high levels of religious persecution,” Mr. Viljoen said in reference to the November 2021 action by the U.S. State Department.

He explained, “It could be true that the American Secretary of State wanted to appeal to the Nigerian authorities to exploit the country’s natural resources.”

With such a form of arrangement, the Director of the SACBC peace entity said, Nigeria should not expect much help from the U.S. in terms of diplomatic intervention in the country’s ongoing security crisis.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.