Crying Important for Mental Health – Nigeria

Keywords: crying, tears, pathological laughter, professional mourners, Nigeria.


Crying Important for Mental Health – Nigeria.  What causes someone to cry? Why do some happy people cry? How does crying affect human being, like Nigerians? Does everyone have the capacity to cry? Consequences of not producing tears while crying. What of those people who fake tears?

Humans are the only animals that can cry out tears. So crying is a natural means of human expression of emotions, such as grief, joy, frustration, etc. And even though men, women and children cry, women actually cry more than men. This means that crying is important for mental health in Nigeria and globally.

In as much as most people do cry, but in actual fact, not everyone can cry and this is the case among Nigerians. Also although most people shed tears when crying, but some people do not shed tears. And among those who can shed tears, some of these tears are genuine, while some are fake tears. In Nigeria it is called Nollywood tears or acting. While crying without any reason is a symptom of depression.

Why do people cry?

Crying is due to our emotions and these emotions are affected by biological, psychological and social reasons.

Biological reasons:

The crying process involves various parts of the brain such as the amygdala, hypothalamus, parsympathetic and sympathetic autonomic nervous system. And of course the glands in the eyes called the lacrimal glands are also involved, as well as hormones. This is what obtains in all humans, including Nigerians.

The amygdala which is involved in producing emotions actually starts the process. The amygdala stimulates the hypothalamus which starts a cascade of complex processes. These will in turn cause the parasympathetic and sympathetic autonomic nervous system to start certain reactions. The reactions will include the increase of the heart beat, increase in breathing rate, etc. Also the parasympathetic nervous system will stimulate the lacrimal glands in the eyes to produce tears.

Certain hormones like prolactine in women do promote crying. The level of estrogen in the females can affect mood via the effects on the neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, etc. Estrogen also affect the function of the amygdala.

Psychological reason:

These reasons include sadness, frustrations, anger, happiness, embarrassment, etc. And these can actually result from grief, loss, love, passion, showing of empathy, etc. So when one is depressed, anxious, crying can occur.

Actually when most people are angry they usually turn to physical or psychological aggression. But for some people who are angry, they do not show these traits, rather they cry. In the real sense of it, some angry people feel hurt underneath and overwhelmed, so they cry.

Also some of those with mental illness such as depressive disorder also cry. They do so because they feel hopeless, helpless and worthless. And those who are overwhelmed by stress, anxiety and poor sleep can easily cry. 

Social reasons:

Attachment issues –

Crying reflects the person’s attachment styles. So those who had secure attachments in childhood, especially with the mother, are more comfortable with expressing their emotions. Such people can cry when necessary and can easily accept soothing. But those who had insecure attachments cry inappropriately and they are not easily soothed.

Relationship issues –

When love has gone sour and two people who were once in love decide to end the relationship.  This is called relationship breakup and crying can take place.  And when two close friends have to part, many a times it leads to sadness and tears. Even separation from a loved relative or a loved animal, can predispose one to crying.

Why do some happy people cry?

Some of the reasons that make tears to get produced during happy emotions include:


This can squeeze the muscles around the eyes, causing tears to come out. But the squeezing of the muscles do not happen to the same degree in everyone.


Tears can come after the stress of trying to achieve in anything. For example as a Nigerian trying to get a to visa to travel and being rejected severally. When the Nigerian finally gets it, this can lead to crying. It is called tears of joy.

Happiness from any cause is seen by the brain as stress, because the brain cannot differentiate between happiness and stress.  So stress and happiness produce a cascade of processes from the amygdala to the hypothalamus, etc. leading to the production of tears.

Physical illness.

People suffering from stroke, trauma to the brain, Alzheimer, etc. can be seen laughing and crying at the same time. This is called pathological laughter or pseudobulbar affect. In this conditions, the person laughs and cries uncontrollably for several minutes at things. The things laughed at may or may not be funny. 

This condition is brought about by damage to the frontal lobe of the brain that controls emotion. Also the neurotransmitters also come into play.

How does crying affect human beings, like Nigerians?

Crying has both positive and negative effects on human beings, like Nigerians. Those who actually report positive emotional effects of crying are more than those who report negative effects. But recent research papers report that for the positive emotional effects to surface, the environment of social support must be available. And the social support includes people being available to comfort the crying person. But there are the physical effects of tears which are not emotional.

The positive effects of crying:

Tears have physical, psychological and social function. This is because there are three types of tears. There is the basal tears, the reflex tears and the emotional tears.

The physical effects of tears –

Each time one blinks the basal tears bath the surface of the eyes. This helps to keep the eyes moist and improve vision. The basal tears also contain antibacterial against called lysozymes that protects the eyes against bacteria.

The reflex tears help to flush out irritants such as onions, dust, smoke, etc. from the eyes.

The psychological or emotional effects –

Emotional tears help to sooth and calm emotions, relieve pain and help one to relax. The emotional effects of tears are due to the fact that tears contain certain chemicals. These chemicals include oxytocin and endorphins which activates the production of opiates. Tears also contain cortisol, which is a stress chemical, that tears help to wash out, thus reducing tension. All these help to improve mood. Showing that crying is important for mental health for those in Nigeria and all humans.

Due to these chemicals, the person feels good because there is relief of both physical and emotional pains. Even people who suffer from physical illness have some relief after crying out tears.

But these positive psychological effects of crying occur after the crying has stopped. There should also be accompanying social support.

Sleep effect –

Crying or tears help to put the person to sleep, especially babies. This is due to the calming effects and the ease of pain brought about by the physical and psychological effects.

The social effects –

When one cries, it presents the person as being helpless. Crying with tears helps to attract empathy, compassion and other forms of social support to the crying person.

Tears is a form of communication tool that help to tell other people that one needs help. And this is more prominent in children when they cry.

These tears contain plenty of proteins which helps it to roll down the face, sticking to the skin. This helps to make the crying person more prominent so as to easily attract support and sympathy. Nigerians are good with social support of the grieving person and our extended family system makes this possible.

Due to the fact that tears signify that one needs help, and attracts social support, it also helps to reduce aggression from a perpetrator. For example, if a child is being beaten by the mother, seeing the child’s tears the mother will stop the beating. In the same manner, seeing a woman cry also reduces the sexual arousal in men.

Crying can also be infectious and help bond people together. So it is easy to cry when seeing another person crying. This is because when watching another person cry, it elicits emotional memories from the amygdala, etc. And these stimulate events from the hypothalamus and other parts of the brain.

This means that those that produce tears while crying are seen as being in need of help. They are perceived by others as being friendly so people tend to be more connected to them. Also, when people understand that the reason for the tears is genuine, they view the crier as being competent.  This is because criers are seen as honest people who cannot fake their emotions.  Crying is actually important in all aspects of mental health in Nigeria.

The negative effects of crying:

Not everyone who cries get the positive effects from crying.  

Psychiatric conditions –

Those who suffer from mental illness such as mood disorder, like depression and anxiety may not benefit from crying. Although some of those who suffer from depression and anxiety do cry, not all cry.  And crying is really not a consistent feature in these disorders.

Gender issues –

Although certain people that cry are seen as competent, most men who cry are viewed as weak and incompetent. This is more so in Nigeria, where boys are raised not to cry. To most Nigerians crying is not important for men.

Crying frequency and situational issues –

Those who cry often are seen as weak and not in control of their emotions. And those who cry at their work place are also viewed as incompetent. Even those who cry for irrelevant matters are also seen as incompetent.

Does everyone have the capacity to cry?          

The ability to cry is affected by certain factors.

Social factors:

In certain cultures, like in Nigeria, parents raise their male children not to cry. This is because in such cultures, crying is seen as weakness and a shameful act. In such cultures women outnumber males when it comes to the act of crying. But in cultures where men are free to express themselves, more men express sadness via crying.

So some people intentionally suppress their tears because they do not want to be seen as weak. They can also suppress their tears when they are in a public domain.

Some mothers do beat their children and tell them not to cry. This is very common among Nigerian mothers.

Also growing up in a family where crying and tears are suppressed, one will end up not crying as an adult. So when tear suppressions are repeatedly done over the years, not shedding tears becomes automatic.

Psychological issues:

Many people who are depressed are unable to cry. This is because of the numbness and emptiness felt.

Also those that experience anhedonia as can be seen in depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia will not cry. Anhedonia occurs when one looses interest in social activities and physical sensations.

Biological factors:

The hormone testosterone inhibits crying in men. Also the lacrimal glands that produce tears is larger in males than in females. So these large lacrimal glands do not fill up fast enough as it does in females.

The Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition can prevent the shedding of tears when crying. As an autoimmune condition, the immune system attacks the tear glands so that no tears can be produced.

Certain medications can also reduce the production of tears.

Consequences of not producing tears while crying.

Not producing tears while crying, either due to suppression, culture or medical condition impairs emotional communication. So these people are unable to bond with others and they avoid making close relationships.

People who do not cry are more withdrawn than people who cry. And such people are viewed as being harsh or tough. This view is also shared by Nigerians.

So not being able to cry predisposes to negative mental health issues. Thus crying is important for stable mental health in Nigeria.

What of those people who fake tears?

Absolutely yes, people can fake tears. This is seen more in people with personality disorders such as narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders.

Fake tears are also seen among commercial criers seen in Nigeria. These people are seen in some burials or funerals where the bereaved cannot cry.  They are professional mourners who get paid to cry at funerals. This goes to show that crying is important to Nigerians at certain occassions.

Fake tears are called crocodile or Nollywood tears and they are shed in order to manipulate and exploit others. These crocodile tears negatively affect the image of the crier. This is because people see them as manipulators, not reliable, and not competent to take up serious jobs. And the social connection is usually not present.

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