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Mental Health: Experts call for repeal of lunacy act

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Mental Health: Psychiatrists harp on research for better treatment outcomesBy Chioma Obinna

Members of the National Assembly the Federal Government have been urged to repeal the Lunacy Act of 1957 with a view to reducing the spate of suicide in the country.

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Making the call in Lagos, stakeholders who  comprising psychologists, psychiatrists, non-governmental organisation, students, government representatives, school directors among others, who gathered at the 2019 National Conference on suicide prevention in Lagos expressed their plight on how suicide is being addressed in the country, especially the Lunacy Act, which they described as “archaic”.

According to them, the act is encouraging suicide in the country, adding that, creating an enabling environment for suicide prevention in Nigeria through legislation requires an urgent overhaul of her criminal legal system that will decriminalise suicide and attempted suicide.

President of the Association of Psychiatrist in Nigeria, Dr. Taiwo Lateef Sheikh regretted that Nigeria has no national law on mental health, adding that the Lunacy Act being used dates back to 1916 when there were no treatments for mental illnesses.  “What the country has is regional law; a review of the current State laws using the World Health Organisation’s guideline for mental legislation shows that it lacks “focus on human rights and non-discrimination, access to services and least restrictive treatment alternatives.”

Sheikh noted that its definitions are largely inadequate in terms of humaneness and scope; as it continues to employ denigrating terms such as ‘lunatic’, ‘idiot’ and ‘unsound’ mind, while directing properties of patients to be sold off for their treatment.

“It fails to define ‘mental disorder’ or ‘mental disability’ and has no clear posture towards dissocial personality, psychopathy or substance use disorders as important considerations in the elucidation of mental disorders from a psycho-legal point of view.

“The current law has been unable to adequately provide for mental health care on equal footing with physical health. It gives no attention to mental health care financing or access to such services within primary care settings. It envisages the presence of ‘asylums’, which would usually be established by local government councils,” he said.

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Speaking, the Medical Director, Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital, Yaba Lagos, Dr Oluwayemi Ogun, said the criminal code, which states that any attempted failed suicide attracts one-year jail term is encouraging more deaths.

She said rather than addressing the issue, it is encouraging people to die since they have jail term awaiting them when they survive.

“Are we saying it is better for someone who attempts suicide should better die because if the person does not die, then the person will be in jail?” she lamented.

On her part, the Chief Executive Officer, The Nous Foundation Nigeria, Lade Ogunseitan Olugbemi urged the government to implement a national suicide prevention strategy that would address mental health problems and decriminalise suicide through the country’s legislation.

She urged the government to support prevention activities by strengthening the Ministry of Health and recognise the importance of early intervention through appropriate institutions.

Speaking, a Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychologist, Medical Director, Gracehill Place Hospital, Dr Otefe Edebi,  charged the National Assembly to implement the mental health bill, which has passed the first reading, in order to promote mental well-being, prevent mental illness and ensure access to treatment of mental disorders.

Edebi  said policymakers need to look into the mental health bill that has been in the National Assembly, which the health professionals have been fighting it to be passed into law for decades that is still lingering.

“We are glad that the bill has passed the first stage in this current National Assembly, we are hoping and pleading with the Senate Committee on Health that this bill will get the final reading and our president will sign it into law,” he said.

Fielding questions from the stakeholders, the Chairman Senate Committee on Health, Ibrahim Oloriegbe said having listened to the experts and their opinions, he would ensure the bill is passed, noting that by the first quarter of 2020 the mental health act should see the light of the day by being passed by the National Assembly.

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“The bill has been taken for first reading because we are already listing bills that we will consider. I have engaged the group, discussed with the leadership and it is one of those bills that we will consider in the first quarter of next year, 2020,” he added.


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