Today is World Mental Health day. World Mental health day is a day set aside for mental health education, awareness and advocacy. It is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, which began in 1992. The foundation has members and contacts in over 150 countries. Today, thousands of people around the world will come together to bring awareness about mental health issues in their environment. In Nigeria, the awareness for today’s commemoration is in full swing with many messages on social media. However, like many other things in Nigeria, social media awareness cannot address many things about mental disorders. There are many problems regarding mental health awareness in Nigeria that so many people are ignorant about.
- There are other mental disorders apart from “madness”
In Nigeria, the generic name for any mental disorder is madness. Most Nigerians, probably due to long-held traditions of treating medical issues with seemingly abnormal behaviour as insanity as well as poor understanding of mental illness has aided the fact that the synonym for mental illness in Nigeria is madness. The solution is usually to visit a traditional doctor or a spiritual healer for a cure, as exemplified in many indigenous Nigerian movies. The traditional doctor in turn prescribes the same treatment for all mental illnesses, without proper diagnosis. There needs to be a discussion about mental health awareness in rural communities in Nigeria, and how modern medicine has shown that there are many types of mental illnesses and they don’t all have the same treatment. Examples of some mental illnesses or disorders include: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and multiple personality disorders to mention a few.
- Government regulation
The government also has to do more regarding mentally ill people who roam the streets of Nigeria when they should be undergoing psychiatric evaluation. People with mental disorders should be housed in mental asylums and psychiatric wards, undergoing evaluation to ascertain the type of mental disorder they individually have. Government has to enact policies that will make it impossible for people with mental disorders to roam the streets, while making it easy for their family members to enter them into any mental institution without stigma.
According to Michael Friedman, a world renowned clinical psychologist, one of the greatest barriers to mental health care in developing countries, including Nigeria is stigma. Of the 450 million people worldwide who suffer from psychological disorders, 60% of them have not received any form of care. 90% of these people are in developing countries. The reason, according to him, is loneliness. Once an individual has been pronounced with a mental illness, there is a particular social rejection that comes with such self-disclosure. Friends and families start to withdraw, sometimes unconsciously, from such people. An example is depression, which is really hard to understand from close family members who have to wonder why the affected individual is depressed despite having a good job, a great family. There should be conversations about awareness on stigma in mental disorders and how to overcome it.
- Lack of trained personnel
Imagine that in a country of over 180 million people, there are only about 100 trained psychiatrists. To say that this is grossly inadequate is to say the least. Profesor Oye Gureje, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Ibadan attributes this low number to the brain drain in the medical profession. A lot of trained personnel prefer to travel to developed countries such as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia to work because the work conditions are better. This poses a serious problem because mental clinical mental care demands personal expertise rather than advanced technology or equipment.
- Lack of data
The inadequate data on mental illness in Nigeria is also a problem. The data on people with mental disorders in the public sphere is lacking. The incidence of mental disorders in Nigeria for key demographics like youths, men, women and children are absent. Instead what is present is usually an estimate of the number of people who possibly have mental disorders. There should be more research into mental disorders in Nigeria, to be able to give specificity regarding solutions.
- Lack of funding
This is not a problem specific to mental health facilities alone. The Nigerian health sector is underfunded, making it one of the most underfunded in the world. Many Primary Healthcare Centers do not have mental health facilities. Hence, also lacking trained professionals for it. The Nigerian Government should do more to increase funding for the health sector in Nigeria and thereby would also have increased funding for mental health.
These are some of the problems relating to awareness on mental health issues in Nigeria. The first part to solving problems is to recognize it. Today’s mental health day is an opportunity to re-visit these problems and get people talking about them again, to influence both the public and private sector to proffer solutions.