By Chioma Obinna & Chinelo Azike
Despite the rise in suicide cases in Nigeria, the country is still faced with a dearth of psychiatrists as less than 300 psychiatrists serving a population of over 200 million, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Nubi Peter has disclosed.
Peter who is also a World Health Organisation, WHO, certified mental health advocate further disclosed that studies have shown that about 30 million Nigerians suffer from one mental illness or the other.
In an interview with Good Health Weekly during a Walkathon organised by Grace Cottage Mental Healthcare, Ilupeju, Lagos, Peter who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the hospital said mental health has become a medical emergency sadly, little or nothing is being done to ensure victims’ adequate access to treatment in Nigeria.
Throwing light into the acute shortage of specialists in Nigeria, he said: “In a population of an average of 200 million, we are having roughly one in a ratio of one million and they are not sparsely distributed, as a chunk of them are concentrated in the cities, like Lagos, Jos, Port-Harcourt, Abuja among others. In terms of WHO recommendation, we are far behind.
“In terms of prevalence, research has shown that over 30 million Nigerians have one mental illness or the other. When I say mental illness is not that they are moving on the road or eating from the dustbin, we are saying they have mental issues. Some people have emotional issues they are dealing with. emotional issues.
“When we talk about mental illness the picture that comes to mind is that man on the road wearing tattered clothes, eating from the dustbin, laughing and but people have failed to realize that mental illness include depression, anxiety, phobia, sexual addiction, internet addiction, gambling etc also, constitute mental illness.”
Lamenting none passage of the Mental Health Bill he said” This is the 10th year, every world mental health day I have the opportunity of talking about it. It is quite unfortunate the 9th assembly is here now, the 8th assembly was almost getting it right, first reading passed, second reading passed and then they left and now we are having the 9th assembly and yet we have not passed it.
He explained that if the bill is passed into law, it will support and protect people suffering from mental illness, ensure that they are adequately taken care of and catered for in society. “The bill will ensure they are employed. Companies will be forced to at least take or not reject anyone with a history of mental illness; they will have the opportunity to marry. It will help to improve facilities because the bill talks about the establishment of more facilities, the bill talks about subsidizing medication. Peter appealed to Federal and state governments to support people with mental illness, by subsiding the treatment and hasten the passage of the mental health bill. He disclosed that due to lack of support, Nigerian patients go to Benin Republic to get free medication. “The bill will ensure that you don’t just pick somebody and say he is mad, and discriminate against the person, the bill will also protect the doctors among others.
“It is a myth, the same way you take care of hypertension, arthritis, diabetes so also you take care of mental illness. Don’t let us forget the fact that diabetes is affecting the pancreas, hypertension is affecting the heart, asthma is affecting the lungs, these are organs in the body the same way arthritis will affect the bones, mental illness is affecting the brain.”
Noting that every 40 seconds one person loses his or her life to suicide, he said suicide can be prevented.
“In line with WHO’s World Mental Health Day’s theme, suicide is real, never take any treat lightly, if anybody says I want to kill myself, please render support. When people say how are you and people respond I am fine, it doesn’t mean they are fine, let us do away with I don’t care attitude, let us continually be our brothers and sisters keeper, let us bring back the old-time, the togetherness that we share as Africans, that communalism because we are gradually moving away from extended family structure to a nuclear family.”