As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark World Mental Health Day (WMHD), psychiatrists have raised an alarm on the prevalence of mental health illness amongst Nigerians.
According to some of these experts every one in four Nigerians have a mental health condition, meaning that with a population of over 200 million people, over 50 million Nigerians go about their daily activities in a mentally unstable state.
Since 2013, WMHD is marked every year on October 10 to raise awareness about mental health around the world and mobilise efforts to support those experiencing mental health issues.
This year’s theme as announced by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) is ‘Make mental health for all a global priority.’
HausaToday reports that the Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Yaba, Lagos State, Dr Olugbenga Owoeye, was reported to have said that studies have shown that one out of every four persons in Nigeria has one diagnosable mental illness or the other.
This figure according to him indicates that about 25 per cent of Nigeria’s population has one mental illness or the other.
He said these figures also show how common this condition is, and that mental illness is not only synonymous with those walking naked under the bridge.
Owoeye in a Guardian Newspaper report said there are many people who dress very well and go to the office occasionally, but who are suffering from mental illness.
He pointed out that common types of mental illness in Nigeria range from minor conditions like stress-related disorders or acute stress reactions like generalised anxiety, and phobias of various types to major ones like in the case of effective disorders, major depression or in form schizophrenia, which needs urgent attention.
Owoeye noted that of all the number of affected cases of mental illness in the country, about 75% of those who need mental health care do not have access to it.
Stating some of the reasons why, he said Nigeria has only 300 psychiatrists to treat about 200 million people, adding that Africa has one psychiatrist for every 500,000 inhabitants, which is 100 times less than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation.
The psychiatrists bemoaned that the only reason why they are unable to access qualitative mental healthcare services is inadequate manpower.
“There is a scarcity of psychiatric nurses, social workers and occupational therapists and despite the scarcity, these groups of people are still travelling out of the country in search of greener pastures,” he said.
Owoeye said another challenge is inadequate infrastructure, and out of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the country has only nine federal-owned psychiatric hospitals, with six of them located in the six geo-political zones. The psychiatrist said there is still a need for more to cover all the states considering how common these conditions are.
On his part, the President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), Dr Taiwo Obindo, said “Mental healthcare is in a sorry state, given that we have more than 60 million Nigerians suffering from various mental illnesses and the fact that only about 10 per cent of them are able to access appropriate care.”
Obindo, who is also the chairman, of the Faculty of Psychiatry, West African College of Physicians, noted that the mental illnesses gap is that more than 90% of people with mental illness can’t access health care.
He advanced that the gap was a result of various factors like the knowledge gap in which people do not have appropriate information about the causes and treatment of mental illnesses.
Obindo said some factors hindering the management of mental illness in Nigeria include myths and traditional beliefs, inadequate mental health facilities and professionals.
A consultant psychiatrist and former Chief Medical Director (CMD), of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Dr Femi Olugbile, proffered that to improve mental healthcare in Nigeria Primary Health Care (PHC) facilities need to be activated to recognise and treat basic mental health problems.
And that if they are interconnected through electronic medical records/Information Communication Technology (ICT), specialists based in specialist centres could supervise these PHCs in regional clusters and facilitate back-and-forth referral of difficult cases.
This he said is the appropriate pragmatic response to the target, rather than perpetual hand-wringing about the shortage of specialists.
“Carefully managed task shifting is the way forward, though it should not stop the acquisition of more specialists and facilities. We need to think out of the box,” he added
On legislation or reform on mental health in Nigeria, Olugbile said it is believed that the passage of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Bill, would allow for much-needed budgetary allocations for mental health facilities and providers. “The passage of the bill will help in every area and open up new possibilities.”