The Journey towards a Modern Mental Health Bill: Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, several efforts have been made with expert committees established, and working with the Federal Ministry of Health, Lawmakers, Professional Organizations (including those of Psychiatrists, Clinical Psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses, Medical Social Workers etc) to prepare a draft bill for consideration. The 2003 Bill failed to see the light of the day and was rested. The 2013 version equally failed to materialize.
Public Hearing on Mental Health Bill: The current National Assembly has made the most progress with regards to expeditious attention to the mental health bill. The current Senate Committee on Health, ably led by the Committee Chairman, Senator (Dr) Yahaya Oloriegbe, has ensured that the draft bill has passed through the first, second and third hearing and is now slated for public hearing on Monday, the 17thFebruary 2020. This is gratifying to note and presents an opportunity to all stakeholders and the general public to participate and engage with the progress, highlight areas of shortcomings and propose recommendations and amendments to improve on such areas.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as a perfect bill or legislation. But the worst form of the current bill will be a significant improvement on what currently exists. But we now have a window of opportunity to participate in the process and provide critical input for its improvement. Let’s do so, and ensure that all stakeholders rally round and push together for the collective benefit of our society. So, we don’t end up throwing away the baby with the birth water on account of perceived shortcomings.
Conclusion: Our nation is witnessing a worrying spike in the prevalence of mental health challenges, drug abuse, suicide and attempted suicide amongst others. The critical need for a mental health legislation that protects and promotes human rights, personal dignity as well as adequate oversight to ensure qualitative and evidence based mental health services could not have been more pronounced. It is a glorious opportunity that should be embraced and utilized. Let’s do the best we can and achieve some progress. If you are in Abuja on Monday, the 17th February, please attend the public hearing and participate in the process.