BY CHIOMA OBINNA
The Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi has urged governments and Nigerian health professionals among other stakeholders to drive the conversation around responsible media reporting of mental health issues.
Abayomi who spoke at the 2nd Vanguard Mental Health Summit in Lagos, with the theme: “Mental Health in a Distressed Economy”, noted that irresponsible media reporting worsens stigma around mental disorders as well affects access to treatment by populations at risk.
Speaking through the Head of the Mental Health Desk, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr Tolu Ajomale, Abayomi said a lot of work and advocacy needs to be done in terms of having more focused engagement with our media experts to begin to explore how they can bring out mental health information without worsening the impact it has on the population at risk, “but also to help and encourage people that need assistance and support.”
Lamenting the barrage of media reporting of cases of attempted suicide in Lagos, the commissioner said: “One particular area is the issue around suicide.
There has been a lot of work and advocacy around changing the terminology, saying ‘people are committing suicide because suicide is not a crime to say people ‘ending their lives by suicide.
“More importantly, is also the way that message is also being interpreted by the media. Sometimes in Lagos, we find some of the media persons who would want to give out their names, where they live and the job they do and where they work, their families etc. Such reports even worsen the stigma that the person is facing.”
Continuing, Abayomi said another area that needs change is especially around substance abuse, which he acknowledged, that the numbers are increasing.
“National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, has been doing enormous work to stop the supply. In the past, it is said that Africa, especially Nigeria used to be a transit country for a lot of the substances that are being abused.
But we are now a place where we are the consuming country. We are now part of the customers a lot of the people are supplying to, the number is increasing because of globalisation and awareness. While the NDLEA is doing incredible work, especially in the last two years, a lot needs to be done.”
He said for stakeholders working in the area o substance abuse, there was a need to change the messaging during advocacy activities.
“It is important to see how we can stop the supplies and work on systems that support those who are already victims. There are a lot of opportunities in that space.
“When we are talking about substance abuse in the past, we talk about the different ways people are abusing these substances, the messaging has to change.
“While doing the advocacy we are also educating people on ways to abuse substances that they probably were not aware of before. So what we need to do is to change the pattern of the messaging and focus more on looking out for the symptoms and signs rather than describing the substances we are involuntarily marketing the products to people.
“The conversations should be around more of the ideas, and solutions we can explore to stop the supply.
So that when we are having this conversation next year, we can talk about some of the solutions we have achieved and where we are now and where we want to be,” he added.
Further, he commended Vanguard for its consistency in driving conversation around mental heart, adding that the theme of the summit was apt as it affects not only the physical health but the mental and well-being of the people.