1. Department of Internal Medicine (Psychiatry), University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, Abuja (FCT), Nigeria.
3. Department of Psychiatry, College of Health Sciences, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria.
Background: The Brain Fag syndrome is considered to be a culture-bound syndrome. While some authorities view it as a variant of anxiety and somatic disorders, others consider it as a specific psychiatric disorder characterized by somatic and cognitive impairments associated with study. It was first described by Prince among Nigerian students and is rarely seen in Western cultures as so described. Morakinyo has also described this syndrome in details. It is thought to result from imposition of alien Western learning techniques on non-Western students. Despite the challenges in classification, Brain fag syndrome contributes to difficulties experienced by students in their academic pursuit and may lead to discontinuation of education.
Methods: We investigated this syndrome among 3rd and 4th year students from different faculties in the University of Abuja. This was a cross-sectional study in which 600 students were randomly selected to participate. The instruments were made up of a sociodemographic questionnaire, the Brain Fag syndrome scale, the WHO questionnaire for student drug use surveys and the University College London study difficulty questionnaire. Data was analysed using SPSS-16.
Results: Prevalence of Brain Fag syndrome was 36% and commoner among male students and those who had significant financial difficulties. No association was found with age and family background. Study difficulty was found in 53.8% of the population. Though no significant association with Brain Fag syndrome in general, 25.7% of students had both study difficulty and Brain Fag syndrome. Positive lifetime use/abuse of psychoactive substances (especially stimulants) was significantly associated with the diagnosis of Brain Fag syndrome. This was also higher among the male population.
Conclusion: Brain Fag syndrome is now widely accepted as an entity of its own and not just a variant of anxiety/depression. The symptoms of discomfort in the head, poor understanding and poor memory associated with study have been clearly described. These impair study among university students as we found and is made worse by use of stimulants. Consequently, impairments in mental health and academic pursuits are likely to result. These have to be further explored and adequate measures put in place to address resulting challenges.
Keywords: Brain fag syndrome, nigeria, university students, psychoactive substances