The Federal Government has expressed its commitment to the operationalization of the new Mental Health Act for the protection of rights of the mentally challenged persons. The Minister for Health and Human Service, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, made the disclosure at a stakeholder dialogue organized by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to commemorate the 2023 World Mental Health Day held on Friday in Abuja. Pate stressed that to effectively implement the new act, patients would be mainstreamed into activities that relate to them.
Tony Ojukwu (SAN), the executive secretary of NHRC, stated in his address that under the principle for the protection of persons with these issues and the improvement of mental health care adopted by the UN general, “all persons have the rights to the best available mental care, which shall be part of the health and social care system.” This he said has not been achieved but is being pursued by the government. According to Ojukwu, it is in efforts to raise the bar and consciousness about these issues, related rights of patients and to mobilize agencies to discharge government international human rights commitments in relation to mental health that the dialogue was organised.
New Act changes the term “lunatic” to “mental health.”
In January 2023, 65 years after the Lunacy Act of 1958 (which gave medical practitioners the power to detain people suffering from psychological illnesses) was established, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law Nigeria first mental health bill, the National Mental Health Act, 2021. The Lunacy Ordinance enacted in 1916, which preceded the Lunacy Act of 1958, was Nigeria first mental health legislation. The Act is a significant step forward for psychological well-being in Nigeria as it seeks to promote and protect the lives of people suffering from these illnesses while also addressing and correcting the flaws in the Lunacy Act.
It also emphasizes the government’s commitment to closing Nigeria’s massive health care gap and eventually, achieving Universal Coverage. For a sector that was previously regulated by an Act that failed to meet the international standards for a good mental health policy because it labelled the illnesses as lunacy, violated the rights of the people it was supposed to protect, and fostered stigma and discrimination, the new act introduces new changes. And redefines psychological illnesses in Nigeria. It moves away from the term ‘lunatic’ to the more acceptable term, “mental health.”
Illness was not adequately understood in 1958.
While the Lunacy Act of 1958 was enacted prior to independence and therefore represented a period in history when psychology was not adequately understood, resulting in inhumane and ineffective treatment and stigma for patients, the new Act seeks to change perception and understanding, while also addressing access to a better quality of life and better psychology services for people with mental health conditions. Also, the new law promotes and protects the human rights of persons with these types of conditions.
Stigma and discrimination in homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and even the psychological care system itself often encourages human rights abuses. Physical and sexual abuse and violence, denial of employment and other opportunities and limited or no access to quality services are all manifestations of these abuses. While the Lunacy Act of 1958 failed to protect the rights and dignity of people with mental illness, the Act 2021 is designed to “promote and protect the fundamental human rights and freedom of all persons with these conditions.”
Women Affairs minister urged for incorporation of patients into NHIS.
Meanwhile, in her goodwill message, Minister of Women Affairs, Ms. Uju Kennedy, urged for proper incorporation of mental health patients into Nigeria National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for better medical services and affordability for the mentally challenged. Chime Asonye of the Nigeria Mental Health (NMH), a civil society group, urged for decriminalization of suicide in Nigeria. According to Asonye, victims of mental health who attempt suicide would rather get help than to be punished. He therefore called for repeal of the law of suicide (in Section 327 of the 1999 Constitution as amended). The Nigeria Mental Health Act 2023 establishes human rights protections for patients and promotes community-based care. It also addresses issues and other components as advocacy prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
World Health Organization: Website