đź”» MENTAL HEALTH IN NIGERIA: MHEI Hosts Press Conference and Round Table Discussion with CSOs in Nigeria

The issues of mental disorders and mental illnesses have become topic of great concerns today. According to the Federal Government of Nigeria, 20% to 30 % of Nigeria’s estimated 200 million population suffers from mental disorders, this means that 3 in 10 Nigerians suffer from one form of mental disorders or the other.

While many Nigerians have misconceptions and misbeliefs about mental illness, which has unconsciously stigmatized people with mental illness, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only about three percent of the Nigeria government’s budget on health goes to mental health. Meanwhile, we have about 200 psychiatrists (some are not practicing, while others are in the academia) presently in Nigeria— approximately one psychiatrist per 1 million people.

This dwindling situation has resulted into the human rights abuse of thousands of people with mental health conditions across Nigeria. According to the Human Rights report of November 11, 2019, people who should be supported and provided with effective services in their communities are found to be chained and abused in many settings, including state hospitals, rehabilitation centers, traditional healing centers, and both Christian and Islamic faith-based facilities.

It was garnered from the report that “Between August 2018 and September 2019, Human Rights Watch visited 28 facilities ostensibly providing mental health care in 8 states and the Federal Capital Territory, including federal psychiatric hospitals, general state hospitals, state-owned rehabilitation centers, Islamic rehabilitation centers, traditional healing centers, and Christian churches where people with actual or perceived mental health conditions, including children, are placed in facilities without their consent, usually by relatives.”

“In some cases, police arrest people with actual or perceived mental health conditions and send them to government-run rehabilitation centers. Once there, many are shackled with iron chains, around one or both ankles, to heavy objects or to other detainees, in some cases for months or years. They cannot leave, are often confined in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, and are sometimes forced to sleep, eat, and defecate within the same confined place. Many are physically and emotionally abused as well as forced to take treatments.”

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As a result of this, on November, 22, 2019, MHEI organized a Mental Health Media Conference alongside our colleagues from mental health affiliated organizations such as Neem Foundation, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) and Secure D Future International Initiative to express our worries over the ill-treatment meted on mentally deranged, and particularly criticized the violation of their fundamental human rights by mental health service providers.

The Founder of MHEI, Mr Zion Ameh, during  the media conference on Sunday in Abuja said “from the demeaning report by Human Rights Watch, thousands of people with mental health conditions are harboured in inhuman conditions. This indicated that the treatment by mental health services providers was unacceptable as it denied their rights as Nigerians.”

Mr Zion said that lack of effective and efficient mental health services in Nigeria has had serious socio-economic and productivity consequences. According to him, it has increased risk of low productivity, high rate of depression, stress, anxiety, suicide as well as inappropriate detention of people. He quoted the report as observing that it was “wrong to subject anyone to torture or inhuman treatment and nobody shall be held in slavery or servitude.

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Furthermore, on December 10, 2019, MHEI hosted CSOs & NGOs in Abuja to discuss about the proposed Mental Health and Substance Abuse Bill where we all renewed our commitments to lead Mental health actions in Nigeria and collectively catalyze the demand for the human rights of people with mental illness across all sectors knowing fully well that “MENTAL HEALTH IS A HUMAN RIGHT TOO”. Nigeria still use the Lunacy Act of 1958 which is not tenable in any modern society, hence, the urgent need for a mental health reform in Nigeria which the proposed bill sets to achieve.

As a nation, for Nigeria to achieve a sustainable mentally healthy society, we need to use the universal health coverage (UHC) as a platform to advance mental health services in the country. Also, the government need to invest, educate and empower the citizens in the area of mental health.