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Is one in every five Nigerian mad?

By Clifford Ndujihe
THE Federal Government on Monday said no fewer than 40 million Nigerians are suffering from one form of mental disorder or the other.

Given Nigeria’s estimated 198 million population, it means one in every five Nigerian is mad.

The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, stated this at the on-going mental health action committee and stakeholders workshop in Abuja.

A mental disorder or illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behaviour, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.

Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these.

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He identified fast-tracking the enactment of the Mental Health Act as well as the resuscitation of the national mental health action committee for the coordination of stakeholders’ activities on mental health and psychosocial supports in the country as ways of addressing Nigeria’s mental health burden

His words: “In Nigeria, an estimated 20%–30% of our populations are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is inadequate. The level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and with lots of misconceptions.

“By 2020, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders, will disable more people than complications arising from HIV/AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and wars combined! This is an astonishing statistic and possesses serious questions as to why mental health disorders are not given the needed attention that it deserves.

”A policy for mental health services delivery was developed with several key provisions of the policy, including establishing a body at the Federal Ministry of Health to focus on Mental Health issues. Some of the pertinent issues is how to address and dialogue with stakeholders on the burden of mental health, intimate them on the Mental

Health policy, identify ways to fast track the enactment of the Mental Health Act and modalities for resuscitating the National mental health action committee for coordinating the activities of various stakeholders on mental health and Psychosocial supports in Nigeria.”

Dr. Rex Mpaazange, the WHO Lead on Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases Intervention, urged decisive action lamenting that “People with severe mental disorders – moderate to severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders – generally have a life-expectancy 10-20 years shorter than the general population.”

Director of Public Health in the ministry, Dr. Evelyn Ngige, said the country’s statistics on mental health disorders were damning and could get worse given the current economic hardships in the country.

“Considering the current economic situation in the country, the above statistics are damning and in the light of the recent suicidal episodes recorded in parts of Lagos (which are obviously a tip of the iceberg), it forces a rethink in our general attitudes to mental health and questions our current maintenance of the status quo,” she said.

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