Mental healthcare delivery in Nigeria may have taken the back row, a symptom of the near decay in the nation’s overall healthcare sector. But the crisis in this healthcare sub sector is telling because, for some reasons, there appears to be a lacuna as regards care for sufferers as they are mostly either ignored or stigmatised.
The situation has worsened with the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic that led to lockdown that took its toll on Nigerians emotionally. During this period, many were relieved of their jobs while others suffered salary cuts amidst rising costs of living creating an atmosphere of economic hardship. This dire scenario was made even more unbearable by the persistent and pervasive insecurity across the country.
Experts in the health sector aver that a good number of Nigerians suffer from one form of mental disorder or another, with depression taking the lion share. Health sources indicate that there are various types of mental disorders ranging from depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar affective disorder, dissociation and dissociative disorders. Others are obsessive compulsive disorder, behavioural and emotional disorders in children, paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines depression as ‘a mental health disorder that negatively affects how a person feels, how a person thinks, and how a person acts.’ It goes on to state that depression is a treatable form of mental disorder with symptoms ranging from ‘depressed mood or feeling of sadness, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite – weight loss or gain, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of energy or increased fatigue, increase in purposeless tasks or physical activities such as pacing, slowed movements and speech, feeling guilty or worthless, difficulty thinking or concentrating, suicidal thoughts.’
Anyone with any of these feelings would usually go on for weeks and it should not be mistaken for other medical conditions similar to depression such as thyroid issues or lack of vitamin. According to a media report, as of 2019, global health estimates by the world health body showed Africa as having 29.19 million cases of depressive disorder.
And in 2020 September, the Association of Psychiatrists noted that Nigeria had only 250 psychiatrists to serve a population of over 200 million people. However, with the recent brain drain and flight of doctors and medical personnel from the country, the numbers would most probably have reduced further. This calls for great concern.
At the May 2021 World Health Assembly, governments across the globe saw the significance to scale up quality of mental health services at all levels, with some finding new ways to provide mental health care to their citizens. And so, it would be wise for Nigeria to tap into this initiative in order to adequately take care of those in need of help mentally, while creating awareness to prevent stigmatisation and drug abuse.
An estimated 275 million people took to drugs globally last year with more than 36 million people suffering from drug use disorders, reveals the 2021 World Drug Report, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Furthermore in 2018, National Drug Use Survey showed that in Nigeria in that year, ‘there were about 14.3 million drug users, out of which nearly three million suffered from a drug use disorder.’
We are encouraged by the global target of WHO’s mental health action plan 6 which targets 50 per cent of countries to have ‘developed or updated their law in line with international and regional human rights instruments by 2020.’ This is not withstanding the fact that in 2017, only 40 per cent of WHO member states had updated their legislation in the past five years with Africa recording the lowest rate at 21 per cent even as the rate had doubled since 2014.
In a 2021 report by WHO showing depression rates around the world, about 264 million people worldwide have depression. Ten countries were identified as having the highest prevalence rate of depression. These include Ukraine with 6.3 per cent, closely followed by the United States at 5.9 per cent, Estonia at 5.9 per cent and Australia also at 5.9 per cent.
This newspaper is of the opinion that Nigeria must not join these countries ranked as high in depression rates. As such, we suggest that the federal government should work on the country’s economy and research ways to alleviate the present economic hardship, reassessing food prices and coming up with benefits for those unable to cope.
We are compelled by the situation on ground to recommend to the federal government the urgent need to prioritise matters of mental health care for the citizens. We are also convinced that with adequate care for sufferers, there would be no need for them to turn to illicit drugs.
Furthermore, it is vital, in our opinion, that the federal government creates awareness programmes to enlighten the public so as to erase all forms of stigmatisation. It is obvious that when the nation is healthy, everything else to ensure its progress falls into place. That much also can be said of mental healthcare.