Experts stress need for FG to pass Mental Health bill urgently

The increasing rate of suicide cases in the country in recent times has shown that all is not well with the mental health status of many Nigerians.

The nation is still shocked at the news of a medical doctor, named Allwell Orji who took his own life two Sundays ago, by jumping into the Lagos Lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge.
Also, a woman identified as Taiwo Titilayo Momoh who attempted to jump into the Lagoon from same Third Mainland Bridge last week Friday was rescued by the operatives of the Lagos State Police Command.

Yet again, according to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, another woman identified as Mrs Abigael Ogunyinka also attempted to commit suicide after jumping into lagoon of the Third Mainland Bridge last week but was lucky to have been rescued by fisher men.

If this could be happening in Lagos state alone within two weeks, it foretells that the trend has assumed a frightening dimension, compounded by daily suicide bombings in the north eastern part of the country. No doubt, the situation calls for an urgent action by the federal government.

Experts have attributed the recent increase in suicide cases in the country to mental illness such as depression, anxiety and distress which they said were triggered by the current economic hardship.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 800,000 people die across the world due to suicide every year and suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds with 75% of the suicides occurring in low-and-middle-income countries including Nigeria.

Worried about the negative development, psychiatrists in the country are calling on the Federal government to rise up and address the challenge by giving priority to mental health through effective polices and legislations.

Speaking with The Daily Times in a recent interview, Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Lagos, Dr. Peter Ogunubi, said the only way the federal government could effectively tackle the problem of mental illness and its attendant consequences such as suicide is to pass the Mental Health Bill lying at the National Assembly for many years now.

His words: “It is unfortunate that the federal government has been paying lip-service to mental health in Nigeria, forgetting that over 30 million Nigerians have one form of mental illness or the other. Passing the Mental Health Bill before the National Assembly is the only way to go, if the issue of mental illness is to reduce in the country.”

Ogunubi pointed out that government is paying attention to ailments like cancer and HIV because they affect the rich, but, when it comes to mental illness, government is silent.
“We have discovered that any illness that does not affect the rich does not get the attention of the government in Nigeria. For years now, the Mental Health Bill has been at the National

Assembly without passage. They called the Mental Health Bill an orphan bill because it has no sponsor. The National Assembly had passed other bills before it but has refused to pass the Mental Health Bill because no Ghana–must-go bag of money was attached to it.
“As we speak, Ghana has passed their mental health law and they have the Department of Mental Health. But in Nigeria, we are still groping in the dark because we have refused to pass our mental health bill,” he said.

This is even as hospital visitation record from the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, shows that the number of new cases of mental illness has doubled in the last one month.
He described the Lunacy Act that is currently in use in the country as outdated and so cannot address present day needs and challenges.

According to him, the MHB, if passed and assented into law, will ensure that government increases access to mental health services, address the problem of inadequate facilities which is currently less than 50 in the country and shortage of manpower.

He went on: “If the bill is passed, it will also provide subsidised medication that mental illness patients need. As we speak, treatment for mental illness is very expensive and in Nigeria, is still out of pocket payment. It is the family members that pay for the treatment and some patients are in a medication that cost over N80,000 per month.

“But drug for HIV is free. Nigerians go as far as Benin Republic to get free medication because they have free mental healthcare there. Out of the money budgeted for health, we don’t even have one per cent for mental health.”

He lamented that with a population of over 170 million people, Nigeria has less than 200 psychiatrists amounting to one per one million persons! He added that there are even no facilities to absorb those that have graduated from psychiatry.

Also, another Consultant Psychiatrist with the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Olamide Oluwaniyi, told The Daily Times that based on recent happenings, it has become important for government to integrate mental health into primary healthcare to enable those with mental illness have access to treatment.

He emphasised that though mental health disorders may be life long, but with adequate treatment, the patient could still lead a positive mental life.

“Having a mental disorder does not mean you cannot have a positive mental health. With the right treatment, it is very possible. But the problem we have in Nigeria is that, most people with mental disorders seek spiritual help rather than medical help”, he said.

Oluwaniyi therefore, urged government to promote things that will positively influence the mental health status of Nigerians such as good environmental, health, social and economic policies so as to enable everyone to be happy and fulfill his/her dreams in life.

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