Against the backdrop of incessant suicide incidents in the country, psychiatrists in the country are pushing for quick long-lasting action as they called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign the Mental Health Bill into law.
Nigeria has been struggling to formulate a modern mental health law since 2003 to replace the old Lunacy Act of 1958.
According to experts, the Mental Health Bill would fill the gaps in terms of treatment, patient protection, financing, human resources, and mental health services.
The country continues to grapple with the effect of mental health challenges, including suicide of workers and youths who end their lives as a result of issues such as depression, economic hardship, among other causes.
Experts have also lamented the low number of psychiatrists attending to the numerous mental health issues, resulting in suicide in extreme cases, among Nigerians.
The President, Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), Dr. Taiwo Sheikh, noted that the signing of the mental health bill into law would help to protect mentally ill persons, protect care givers, establish nature of care rendered to mentally-ill persons, and also define who is responsible for funding, treatment among others.
He said the delay in signing of the bill created problems in that “drug abuse, depression and suicide will rise and those affected will not get the professional care they need which may itself take a greater toll on the economy of the individual or the family, as out of pocket pay remains the norm. Such untreated or poorly treated disorders may have an effect on the suicide rates in the country.”
On the low number of psychiatrists, Sheikh said “three out of every five psychiatrists we produce leave the country for greener pastures. The UK has even lessened its once stringent conditions to recruit psychiatrists now, indicating that more Nigerians are likely to move to the UK.
“We are still working on our directory, but based on what we are seeing every day, it should be an average of 250 psychiatrists.”
Consultant Psychiatrist, Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Adefemi Adeoye, corroborated Sheikh’s assertion, noting that passing the Mental Health Bill into law would improve access to mental health care.
“The government should create an enabling environment for people to enable them to seek appropriate health care and when they need such health care, there is no current updated law guiding mental health and any mental health practice in Nigeria.
“The bill has been through several stages in the government and is yet to be passed into law. Such things will help in giving access to people who have mental health challenges, (and) including the Federal Health Insurance Scheme will also help in increasing access to care.”
A professor of Community Health at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Akin Osibogun called on stakeholders to put structures in place to ensure retention of psychiatrists in the country.
He said, “We have about 40 to 60 million Nigerians with one form of mental disorder and we have less than 200 psychiatrists in the country. The shortage is global and we need to put in place structures that will encourage our psychiatrists to stay in the country while we train more.”