HealthHealth ConditionsLifestyleMental and sexual healthMental Health

Is Mental Illness Hereditary?

Is Mental Illness Hereditary?

Do you know that one in four Nigerians suffers from mental illness? As unlikely as it looks given that Nigerians are considered happy people, mental illness is a real challenge many are battling.  

Mental illness is a condition that usually involves emotional changes, changes in behaviour and thinking. Some examples of mental illness include schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, paranoia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In 2019, Nigeria was also found to have the highest suicide rate in Africa and the sixth-highest suicide rate globally. Despite the alarming statistics, Nigeria’s healthcare system is nowhere near prepared to handle the rapid emergence of mental health struggles. 

There are many negative views and perspectives about mental illness and people who suffer from it. This is mainly due to a general lack of knowledge and a low tolerance for the disease in society, which may be one of the major causes of its prevalence in Nigeria. 

Many factors have contributed to these popular misconceptions, including illiteracy, poverty and lack of proper mental care. 

Some of the myths about Mental Illness include; 

MYTH: Mental illness is always hereditary 

 Some people believe that mental illness can only be gotten from one’s parents and that individuals who suffer from the illness always go on to have children who are also mentally ill.


Some research suggests that mental illness can indeed be passed on in families. Biological and genetic factors can play a large role in developing the condition, but this is not always the case. It is possible for a person who struggles with their mental health to have children or close relatives with no mental illness. Many other factors like environment, extreme stress and even brain injury can contribute to developing the disease in a person.  

MYTH: Mental illness can majorly be transmitted by physical contact or bites 

Some people believe that proximity to mental illness patients can transmit the symptoms from one person to another, and that in violent cases, bites can transmit the illness.


Proximity to mentally ill patients cannot in any way transmit the symptoms and it cannot be spread through bites either. Mental illness is not communicable.

MYTH: All persons struggling with mental illness are violent

It is widely believed that mental illness always manifests as rash, violent and unpredictable behaviour.  


The truth remains that many forms of mental illness have different symptoms. Mental illness can present itself in unlikely ways, but it is not always violent. Many successful, composed individuals struggle with the illness but are still functional members of society. 

MYTH: Mental struggles are a sign of weakness

In Nigeria, people who struggle with mental illness are seen as weak and vulnerable. They are also believed to be lazy underachievers. 


The illness is quite common, and anyone, including wealthy and successful people, can suffer from it.  

MYTH: Children cannot have mental illness struggles

Some people believe young children cannot struggle with mental health because they lack exposure to real-life experiences. 


Children can actually have a mental illness, which could result from any of the disease’s wide range of causative factors. Mental illness does not only affect people who are over a certain age or adults. Anyone of any age can get it.  

These myths are a large part of why mental illness is seen as a source of shame. In many cases, victims are not eager to seek professional help for fear of being ostracized or ridiculed by members of society. More effort must be put into general sensitization and disseminating correct information about the reality of mental health diseases in Nigeria.

This remains the only way to curb the prevalence of mental illness and encourage treatment in affected persons.

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