By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Chioma Obinna, Funmi Ajumobi, Gabriel Olawale and Jane Onozure
Experts from different sectors and interests have convened in Lagos at the maiden Vanguard Mental Health Summit in the move toward an effective, practical, affordable, and compassionate mental health care system in Nigeria.
In his opening speech at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, venue, Vanguard’s General Manager/Editor-in-Chief, Mr Gbenga Adefaye, explained that Vanguard with a proven track record of initiating discourse around issues of public relevance that inspire community interest while engaging conversations for sustainable change deemed it fit to organise the event to demystify mental health issues in the country.
Speaking on the Theme: “Mobilizing for Systemic Change and Better Mental Health Care in Nigeria,” Adefaye said, “We have brought together the best of health experts, advocates, educators, faith leaders, and other veterans in the country. “
He stressed that the primary agenda of the summit is the development of a sustainable national mental health agenda through the participatory engagement of all.
Adefaye continued: “The Vanguard Mental Health Summit is aimed at initiating change in the management of mental health in Nigeria by improving knowledge, mobilizing leadership, and fostering collaboration at all levels.
“The summit will advance the conversation about mental health challenges, successes, and opportunities at the individual, family, workplace, group, community and national levels.”
He added that the summit is targeted at addressing barriers to universal mental healthcare and propose ways of creating more mentally healthy Nigerian communities through existing healthcare and social services systems.
“Our goal is to have a Nigeria in which people afflicted by a mental health challenge aren’t suffering in silence and that we have the capacity to pull together the resources, support and love that’s possible to go after an extraordinary challenge in our society.
“The main goal of this maiden Summit is not to start another conversation, it is to continue the existing one.
“The goal of all this is about elevating that conversation that is already on to national level and brings mental illness out of the shadows.
“We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone, and that it is not the end, and that with the support and commitment of all, there is hope.
“Too many Nigerians who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence. This needs to stop. It is a fact that most suicides involve someone with a mental health or substance abuse disorder.
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“We can do something about stories like these. In many cases, treatment is available and effective. We can help people who suffer from a mental illness to continue to be good colleagues, friends, and people we love.
“Through interventions like this Summit, we can take out some of the pain and give a new sense of hope.
“We need to do better in recognizing mental health issues among us and making it easier for those affected to seek help.
“Today, we are kickstarting a new type of campaign designed to change attitudes about mental illness. For years now, our mental health system has struggled to serve the people who depend on it.
“For the many people who suffer from a mental illness, recovery can be challenging, but what helps more than anything, what is going to give Nigerians strength, is the knowledge and assurance that they are not alone and that help is available.
“We are breaking the silence, and demystifying mental health issues. This is what Vanguard is doing today.”