The 20m Nigerian psychiatric cases

Beneficiaries at the medical outreach

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives must have been shocked by the statistics of mentally sick Nigerians. It identified that over that about 10 per cent or 20m Nigerians are suffering from one form of mental ailment or the other.

Hon. Uchechukwu Nnam-Obi, representing Ahoada-West/Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni federal constituency in Rivers state, made the revelation while presenting a motion on the need to address increasing cases of mental illness in Nigeria.

He said mental illness manifested in different forms. Consequently, the House of Representatives gave marching orders to the Committees on Health Institutions and Healthcare Services to interface with the Ministry of Health towards enhancing mental health facilities around the country and carry out further sensitisation of Nigerians on the menace.

There is a growing concern among Nigerians with large number of mental health patients roaming the streets, oftentimes constituting nuisance to the general public.

Some of the sufferers slipped into their pathetic conditions driven by mood swings, anxiety,persistent economic hardship, job losses, despair and old age-related illness.

Besides endemic corruption which is an invidious crime that impoverishes the masses, another major factor responsible for this state of affairs is bad governance which has been the hallmark of successive administrations. Then, there is self-induced lunacy especially among the youths who indulge in reckless use of all manner of hard drugs. The Covid-19 pandemic is not helping matters, it has further piled up more stress on the populace and driven many into depression, arising mostly from loss of means of livelihoods and/or inability to fulfill basic personal and family commitments.

It is common knowledge that most of the victims of mental ailment do not have access to modern therapy. Presently, there only 130 psychiatric doctors to 200m Nigerians, leaving local healers to fill the huge gap.

Consequently, many hapless patients are subjected to undignified treatment, such as being chained to trees or beds, locked in a cage, left without food for hours, deprived of family support and adequate personal hygiene.

Mental health patients deserve respect and compassion as they cope with their disease, as it is expected of those who suffer from any other disease. Some countries on the continent have implemented a wide range of measures to restore the dignity of patients and improve awareness and access to mental health services at all levels of the health care system. This includes revision of their mental health legislations in order to protect the rights and dignity of persons affected by the condition.

However, the promotion of good mental health and understanding of its challenges, together with early detection, treatment and dignity of the patients are still major concerns in the country. Most towns and cities have their own fair share of insane people living among sane members of the public. During the colonial era, asylums for lunatics were established in different parts of the country to cater for all categories of mentally challenged persons. 

Today, many of such institutions have vanished. There seems to be no clear-cut demarcation between psychiatric wards and asylums in hospitals. We, however, know that wards are meant for patients whose cases may be within redemption, while asylums are used to quarantine those who have slipped into irreversible insanity.

Mentally challenged persons deserve pity and support. Government at all levels can help. It has the responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of all citizens, lunatics not excluded. Some mental disorders are inherited, but insanity could also be triggered off by socio-economic challenges.

Urgent steps must be taken to slow down the march by the suffering masses into the psychiatric fold.  We also call on the various governments to consider bringing back lunatic asylums as a means of curbing the public nuisance that lunatics constitute. Such institutions should be well-staffed and funded. 

Unfortunately, the picture being painted about the dearth of psychiatric personnel is very disturbing – a ratio of one doctor to one million Nigerians! Aside from mental disorder fueled by the current economic woes, there is also the need for public enlightenment campaigns that would discourage our youths from embracing such habits that lead to mental imbalance and consequently suicide in most cases.

Nigerians should also be sensitised to the need to pay attention to their mental health especially the brains which are as vital to the body as organs like the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.We commend the House of Representatives for its intervention and urge it to push the motion through to its logical conclusion.