Mental health is a significant issue in Nigeria, with high rates of mental illness and a shortage of mental health services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 14% of Nigerians experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. The most common conditions are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
WHO claimed further that Nigeria has Africa’s highest cases of depression and ranks 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide. Also, there are less than 150 psychiatrists in Nigeria, a country of over 200 million, and only about 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need.
However, mental health care in Nigeria is underfunded and inadequate, and there’s a shortage of trained mental health professionals. There’s a significant stigma surrounding mental illness in the country, and as a result, many people with mental health conditions don’t receive the help and treatment they need.
Notwithstanding, mental health legislation has been virtually nonexistent. Nigeria has had no mental health laws, save for the ambiguous Regional Lunacy Law of 1958, which perceives all mental health issues as madness, without any mention of prevention and treatment.
In light of the urgent need for humane and inclusive mental health reforms, for over 20 years, various stakeholders in the mental health sector have advocated for a new mental health bill. President Muhammadu Buhari has finally signed the Mental Health Bill into law; the 1st Mental Health Act/Law post Independence, which will replace the Lunacy Act of 1958.
The new mental health bill addresses the following issues:
Nigeria has recorded high levels of insensitivity and stigmatization towards those diagnosed with mental illness across many communities. In some Nigerian societies, mental illness is viewed as a spiritual issue rather than a medical one, and seeking help for mental health problems may be seen as a sign of weakness.
Nonetheless, the new mental health bill can make life better in many ways. Some of these ways include:
Although there’s still a long way to go to develop Nigeria’s mental health sector, this bill is a step in the right direction. We now need executive implementation so that the government can make mental health a national priority.