“I lived in fear that I might be abducted again.”

A mental health and psycho-social support session for victims of insurgency in northeast Nigeria.

In 2014 Yagana Mustapha was abducted by an armed group. Just 17 years old, she was forced to marry one of her abductors and gave birth to two children.

“I went through a lot of stress and suffering,” she says. “We were fed rotten food, sometimes going days without any meals.”

Yagana endured five years in captivity in northern Nigeria before she summoned the courage to escape, taking her children with her. But she found that although she had physically left, the mental trauma lingered.

“I was over the whole situation but something worse came. I could not sleep most nights, I had nightmares and I lived in fear that I might be abducted again,” she said.

Victims of insurgency are often forced to flee their homes, where many are separated from their families and communities. During insurgency driven conflict, loss of life, abduction, the threat of recruitment into armed groups create trauma and mental challenges. Many people are cut off from fundamental services such as clean water, health care and education, especially as towns are raided and communities divided. All these events create deep impressions.

Yagana endured five years in captivity in northern Nigeria before she summoned the courage to escape, taking her children with her. But she found that although she had physically left, the mental trauma lingered. Yagana has benefitted greatly from the counselling and has begun to heal from her trauma.

If such traumatic feelings are not addressed, they can eventually lead to severe illness such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also lead to low self-esteem, compounded health issues, overall poor performance, and potential self-harm. Mental health support is remains critical, especially to victims of insurgency.

In contributing to community mental health wellbeing and linked to supporting them to rebuild their systems for local livelihoods, the Support to Reconciliation and Reintegration Project, which is implemented by UNDP UNDP, IOM and UNICEF in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States with funding by European Union. It provides mental health and psycho-social support for victims of insurgency in northeast Nigeria. The initiative is linked with support provided to the community members to establish locally appropriate livelihood schemes. It seeks to create an enabling environment that helps to develop coping skills, heal from the scars of conflict and subsequently build community resilience.

People such as Yargana receive counselling and mentorship classes on core values such as tolerance, justice and honesty which contributes to social cohesion and peace. Their selection for participation in is built on a vulnerability assessment.

Halima Bukar’s village was raided and her husband taken, leaving her with her four children to care for. “I lost my husband, and I still don’t know if he’s alive or dead, I just couldn’t find him after the raid. Since then, I have been living in disarray, because I think about if he will ever come back to me and my kids.”

Facing a frightening and uncertain future, Halima enrolled in the programme. The sessions have been wonderful,” she says. “I feel much better now, I no longer think a lot it has helped me to forge ahead.”

Yagana has also benefitted greatly from the support and has begun to heal from her trauma.

“The sessions gave us the opportunity to speak about our situation, and in that I realized a lot of people have been through worse situations than mine. Knowing that I am not alone and seeing people going through the same issue helped me to relax. We bonded and are trying to heal together. I’m not totally over the event, but this session is a step towards full recovery, I am really happy that I participated and wish that more people could,” she says.

Facing a frightening and uncertain future, Halima enrolled in the counselling programme. The sessions have been wonderful,” she says. “I feel much better now, I no longer think a lot it has helped me to forge ahead.”

Story and photos by UNDP Nigeria

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