Nigeria needs to take its mental health seriously -Nkem Ndem

Nigeria needs to take its mental health seriously -Nkem Ndem

 

 

Last week, I was filling out the form for a short course I intend to do this summer and when I got to the part where I had to indicate if I had any disability, curiosity got the better of me.

 

Usually, I would skip such sections without really considering it because, thankfully, I have no physical impairment.

 

But the drop-down arrow caught my eye and I clicked on it and saw a list of disabilities that did not just include lack of hearing, being crippled or blindness. There was a whole list and they included things like anxiety disorders.

 

 

 

 

If you are familiar with anxiety disorders, you would know that its prevalence across the world varies from 2.5 to 6.5 percent by country.

 

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Globally, an estimated 275 million people experienced anxiety disorders in 2016, making it the most prevalent mental health or neuro-developmental disorder in history.

 

Coming down to Nigeria, an article I read stated that an estimated 40 million Nigerians are believed to be suffering from mental disorders. That’s about 20%–30% of our population!

 

If you remember, the Minister of Health had said last year that three in every 10 Nigerians suffer from one form of mental disorder or the other. That is scary considering there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in this country.

 

Why was I intrigued that this was included as a disability?

 

The programme form was asking for the information so that they can provide opportunities for possible care and give successful applicants a bursary!

 

They recognized the gravity of anxiety disorder and mental health in general. But in Nigeria, a mental disorder is never listed as a disability.

 

If you have a mental disorder here, it means that you are mad, stark raving mad, and if you are mad, why will you even be in a position where you have to fill a form to do any sort of programme to better yourself?

 

Here are my issues with Nigeria when it comes to mental health:

 

There is no coordinating body to oversee public education and awareness campaigns on mental health and mental disorders, suicide rate and as a result, psychological crime cases are getting higher.

 

A very small percentage of the country’s budget goes to mental health (which is not a surprise considering the last time a mental health policy document was formulated in Nigeria was 1991).

 

Information on the mental health service in Nigeria is lacking and the average citizen does not have access to relevant information.

 

Why can’t the government at least intervene?

 

To be honest, Nigeria is the only country where I have seen people with full-blown mental disorders roaming the street; we hear stories of some men having sex with such mentally unstable women because they believe it’s a quick ritual to make money.

 

Yes, there are NGOs who try as much as possible to take of people living with mental disorders but the government can do much more.

 

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I beg to hazard a few ideas on how this issue can be tackled:

 

  • Government hospitals should move on from paper-based records to computerized entries. This will ensure an easy and formal structure for interaction between mental health providers and primary healthcare staff.

 

  • The government should establish a coordinating body to oversee public education and awareness campaigns on mental health and mental disorders and start schemes that create platforms for online social therapy.

 

  • The government can invest in, or work with engineers to develop apps/websites that can help people with mental health problems by providing timely information, AI algorithms or just free text-based conversational applications that can provide private and ‘always-available’ support to people with mental health problems. There are some on Google Play at the moment, like Mindscape, Talk Space, Faithful Counseling, e.t.c, but we can build ones tailored to Nigerians.

 

  • Telehealth platforms that can give patients a point of contact to available mental health professionals should be created. Also, software options that combine electronic health records and telemedicine to bring benefits to providers and patients can be created.

 

There is so much more that can be done.

 

What are your Ideas? Please share in the comment box below.

About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

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