Leading experts in clinical psychology have decried the perceived poor attention to mental health issues, noting that the country must key into the 2020 World Mental Health Day theme by investing more in mental healthcare.
They note that most mental health issues come up around age 15..
According to the experts, research confirmed that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions usually first manifest around age 15; warning that if the cases are properly diagnosed and treated at that stage, the patient can have a long rewarding life without complications.
The experts spoke against the backdrop of the theme of the 2020 World Mental Health Day: Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access.
The day was first celebrated on October 10, 1992 and has been marked every year since then. It draws attention to mental healthcare needs globally.
According to the World Federation for Mental Health, the world is experiencing the unprecedented impact of the current global health emergency due to COVID-19.
The WFMH also noted that COVID-19 had impacted mental health of millions of people worldwide.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in separate interviews, the experts, Mr. Bode Daramola, a licensed clinical psychologist and managing partner at Hemisphere Consult; and Mr. Samuel Jinadu, an Abuja-based clinical psychologist, said it was imperative for the nation to make more investment in personnel and facility for mental healthcare.
Daramola, who is also a client solution consultant for ASA Talent and member of the National Association of Clinical Psychologists, said with the outbreak of COVID-19, virtually all sectors of national life started facing serious challenges resulting in mood and behaviour disorders like depression, anxiety, domestic violence and rape.
According to Daramola, the upsurge in these conditions had exposed the inadequacy in mental healthcare in the country, adding that Nigeria lacked enough licensed professionals to handle the cases.
“The theme for the Year 2020 World Mental health Day focuses on awareness and most importantly advocacy for mental health, which has been the focus of many practitioners and most non-government organisations for many years.
“The focus this year is to encourage more investment, especially at the primary health care level, so that more people can access professional care.
“Mental illness affects both the famous and the obscure, the rich and poor, upright and perverse.
“We all must pay utmost attention to it by gaining knowledge and encouraging both private and government investment in personnel and modern facility to make mental health care more accessible and affordable,” he said.
Daramola who is also a COVID-19 volunteer for the Lagos State Psychosocial team said based on the estimates of the World Health Organisation, about a quarter of the 200 million Nigerian population are suffering from one mental condition or the other.
The implication of the WHO estimate, he said, is that about 50 million Nigerians have mental health issues.
“Yet, there is a dearth of mental health practitioners in Nigeria. There are only 200 registered psychiatrists (one to E1Million Nigerians) and 250 registered psychologist in Nigeria (one to 800,000 persons).
“I am sure most of them are already planning to exit the country for greener pasture because of the condition of service for those working in government facilities and the failing economy for those in private practice, and other issues.
“Mental healthcare is a multidisciplinary function needing psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and so on.
“More professionals should be recruited, trained, retrained and given better conditions of service and necessary tools to reduce turnover.
“So, speaking about personnel and infrastructure for mental healthcare, Nigeria has mountains to climb,” Daramola said.
The clinical psychologist also urged the President, Major general Muhammadu Buhari (retd) to sign the new mental health bill into law, stressing that the law will help strengthen the mental health sector.
“The President had just presented the 2021 budget before the Senate. I haven’t looked into what the budget for the health sector is.
“But the allocation for mental health is usually piecemeal. It is mostly around 3.3 to 4 per cent of the health sector budget.
“The health sector investment should be increased, focusing more on mental health infrastructure and expanding the number of facilities across the country.
“One way to do this is to ensure that psychiatrists and psychologist work within the primary healthcare system to provide support for mental health. This service is non-existent at the primary health care level.
“A lot of women suffer post-partum depression and other hormonal disorders that are undiagnosed, untreated and undertreated, leading to other chronic mental illnesses.
“Government should put in more money and also encourage private sector investment to close the gap by building more mental health facilities to complement the only eight neuropsychiatric hospitals available in the country to improve accessibility.
“The facilities don’t have to be so far away, too, so people can visit a mental health practitioner as much as they visit a doctor for physical health.
“All the myth around mental illness that makes them a place where people should visit cautiously must be demystified.
“Mental illness can be severe or mild, so, it takes proper assessment and intervention — be it medication and psychotherapy — to take care of it.
“Government must improve on facilities and also focus on testing and intervention equipment.
“A lot is being done at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba; but the government has to do more, considering the huge population,” Daramola said.
Mr. Jinadu spoke in the same vein, noting that the 2020 World Mental Health Day theme was not only significant and relevant but quite apt, given the present barriers to mental healthcare in the country.
While lamenting that the outbreak of COVID-19 had increase stress and predisposed more people to mental health issues, the clinical psychologist said the two major barriers to mental healthcare were lack of required human resource and poor funding.
He noted that WHO had also confirmed that the challenges needed to be surmounted to improve mental healthcare around the world.
Jinadu said: “According to WHO, only one per cent of the total healthcare workforce is working in the mental healthcare sector. That is not just very alarming but dangerous, because mental health is as important as physical health.
“Mental healthcare in Nigeria is in a poor state. We are still operating an archaic mental health law and that is one of the reasons we are still so backward in this sector.
“We need to improve our policy framework for mental healthcare because, without doing that, very little will be achieved.”
Jinadu also urged early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, noting that doing this will tremendously help reduce mental health cases in the country.
“Most mental health issues come up around age 15. Research has confirmed that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions usually first manifest around age 15; so, if the cases are properly diagnosed and treated at that stage, the patient can have a long rewarding life without complications.
“That’s why I said we need a lot of enlightenment and education as well as proper funding to improve mental healthcare.
“The private sector and development partners should also be encouraged to get involved.
“With the help of development partners, treatment can be subsidised for those who need it,” he said.
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