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Over 50 million Nigerians mentally ill

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By Timothy Akintola

Underinvestment in mental health sector, a major healthcare problem.

Psychiatrists, on World Mental Health Day, raised their concerns in regard to the mental health state of many Nigerians, stating that 1 in every 4 Nigerians which is 50 million of the country’s population suffer from a form of mental disorder. They also raised an alarm over the fact that about 75% of all those that need mental healthcare do not have any basic access to it as a result of Nigeria’s low availability of psychiatrists which is about 300 to treat a population of 200 million. Statistically, this means 1 Psychiatrist for every 500,000 patients, hundred times lower than the recommendation of the World Health Organization.

With the World Mental Health Day marked globally on October 10 with the aim of sensitizing people on the subject of mental health, as well as mobilizing global efforts to support people going through neonatal health problems. The World Health Organization, since 2013 have organized campaigns for World Mental Health Day, this year’s theme being “Make Mental Health for All Global Priority.” on the importance of prioritizing mental health. Psychiatrists noted that around 11 per 100,000 people die of suicide every year in Africa which is higher than the global average of 9 per 100,000 persons. However, suggestions were made on measures for curbing this suicide and mental health problems in Africa.

1 of every 4 people in Nigeria possesses a mental health condition.

Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Dr. Olugbenga Owoeye in Yaba, Lagos State attested to studies indicating that one of every four individuals possessed one diagnosable mental health condition or another, totally about 25% of Nigeria’s population. He stated that this issue was a common one, noting that we must shy away from the perception that only people displaying signs (walking around naked, mood swings ect.) possess mental problems. He further stated that mental issues ranged from minor to major conditions and while minor issues are stress related conditions or acute stress like anxiety and phobias, major conditions are constituted by cases of effective disorders, depressions or schizophrenia which all need immediate attention.

Dr. Olugbenga, on the challenges of mental Healthcare in Nigeria, stated that 75% of the people in need of mental healthcare services are very limited or no access at all, and those who do fail to get qualitative mental healthcare services. All these due to inadequate manpower in the health sector. He complained about even the lower number of clinical psychiatrists, social workers and occupational therapists, saying that even at these low numbers, these groups of professionals are still relocating to other countries for greener pastures. He also lamented about the inadequate Infrastructure, noting that the country has only 9 federally financed psychiatric hospitals. The psychiatrist said there was a need for more infrastructures within all states in Nigeria, considering how common mental health problems are.

Knowledge gap, a factor for inaccessibility to mental healthcare services.

The President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Dr. Taiwo Obindo, who was also the Chairman, Faculty of Psychiatry, West African College of Physicians stated that mental healthcare in Nigeria was in a dilapidated condition, with only about 10 percent of the total number of mental health patients being able to access healthcare. He noted knowledge gaps as a factor for this. Also, on the factors affecting the management of mental health crisis in Nigeria, Dr. Taiwo indicated that myths, traditional beliefs, lack of facilities and professionals were major reasons. On improving the mental healthcare situation in Nigeria, Dr. Femi Olugbile, a Consultant Psychiatrist and Former Medical Director, LASUTH stated that primary healthcare facilities should be activated to recognize and treat mental health issues, with improved Technology.

A consultant psychiatrist at the University of Port-Harcourt attributed the challenge of accessing mental healthcare to stigmatization. Oye Gureje, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ibadan also noted that formal and informal caregivers possess one of the most intensified jobs which Tax them financially, mentally and physically and as such, must also be cared for to avoid more cases of mental illness. The Jehovah Witness, a popular Christian denomination also disclosed their plan to be involved in the global prioritization of mental health. Olusegun Eroyemi, the church’s spokesperson stated that there was an evident lack of awareness on the subject of mental health which people attribute to different factors that worsens the situation. He said that while mental health can be managed, caring for the caregivers was also a priority.

WHO begins campaign for sensitization of suicide prevention in Africa.

Recommendations were made by WHO on measures for the reversal of suicide and mental health crisis in Africa, inaugurating a campaign to raise awareness on suicide prevention in Africa. In a statement, the health body noted that Social Media campaigns were aimed at reaching over 10 million people to raise immense sensitization and galvanize the government to increase its focus and Investment on mental health programs, including suicide prevention. WHO’s regional director in Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti attributed every suicide case as a major Public Health concern, stating that suicide prevention has rarely been prioritized in national health programs. WHO, noted that underinvestment in the mental health sector was one major challenge of adequate mental healthcare services in Africa, hereby urging that significant investments must be procured to fight mental health problems in Africa.


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