The health authorities must do more to contain the health emergency

A professor of psychiatry at the University of Jos, and President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Taiwo Obindo, said recently that the socio-economic challenges being experienced by many Nigerians have serious implications on their mental health. “These challenges go beyond the regular stresses that people are meant to go through and would surely impact people’s mental health,” said Obindo after highlighting some of the problems in the country. “It’s a stressful experience for virtually every Nigerian irrespective of their status.” Despite a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that one in four Nigerians suffer from some sort of mental illnesses, there is nothing to suggest that there are efforts to tackle this health challenge.   

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Like diabetes and heart disease, it is a medical condition which is treatable. Many people with mental health illness return to a productive and fulfilling life after promptly seeking help. But the country is not doing enough to tackle this public health emergency and it is responsible for the growing cases of depression and suicides. Stemming the tide requires a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach involving various government ministries, agencies, and departments especially that of health, labour and employment, and social services.   

Early outward signs of mental illness include eating or sleeping too much or too little; pulling away from people and usual activities; having low or no energy; feeling numb or behaving as if nothing matters any longer. Others include unusual aches and pains; feeling helpless or hopeless; smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual. Confused thinking, severe mood swings, hearing voices or believing things that are not true; inability to perform daily tasks could also be additional symptoms. The number of Nigerians suffering from one mental illness or the other – from the mild to the severe is likely to grow because there is no commensurate plan in place to address it.

According to health professionals, mental health includes the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of people and they affect the way such individuals think, feel and behave. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, but the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. They attribute the cause of mental illness to three factors: biological, which include genes or brain chemistry; life experiences, such as trauma or abuse, and family history.  

With only eight federal neuropsychiatric hospitals in the country, serious budget constraints, the exodus of most experts in the field who seek greener pastures abroad and ignorance, it comes as no surprise that mental illness is on the rampage.  Indeed,

Dami Ajayi, a member of West African College of Psychiatry, has bemoaned the dearth of mental health professionals in the country. “The few doctors who are working are not getting jobs created to fit within the tiers of clinical care.”  And the few mental facilities are run-down. It is therefore no surprise that the country is heading towards a mental health crisis.  

To successfully deal with this problem, the authorities must do more, including the urgent need to leverage on social media at least to address the issue of stigma while an awareness campaign is also important for the prevention of social habits that are detrimental to mental health, especially among young people.  

It is also imperative to put in place measures to improve access to mental health services, including the establishment of primary healthcare centres that target the communities.


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