December 14, 2023

Mental illness: Nigeria lacks laws to handle growing cases  — Babcock Varsity Don

Mental illness: Nigeria lacks laws to handle growing cases  — Babcock Varsity Don

By Adesina Wahab

A Professor of Mental Health, Prof. Titilayo Oyenihun Aderibigbe, has said the socio-economic situation in the country has brought about a lot of mental health challenges that the nation does not have enough laws to properly and adequately handle. 

Aderibigbe stated this while delivering the 46th inaugural lecture of Babcock University, Ilishan Remo, Ogun State titled, “Law’s engagement with the human body: Searching through the prism of law to shape the future.”

Explaining the importance of mental well-being of individuals to the society at large, she posited that the mental well-being of individuals within a family influences negatively or positively the collective safety of the community.

“The World Health Organization’s states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. An important implication of this definition is that mental health is more than just the absence mental disorders or disabilities. 

“It is a deliberate outward manifestation of the inner workings of the mind, which could have been instigated, by the physical, biological, social and economic indices of extant experiences in life.

“In some ways, the ordering of the lives of men could be pre-ordained. This explains why with the tenuous socio-economic hardship faced by many people around the world, most especially Nigeria, there is an increase in mental health issues that extant laws lack the capacity to adequately solve,” she noted.

She said the socio-economic situation in the country got aggravated following the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, which brought about serious dislocation in a number of things with the attendant socio-economic consequences.

Citing one of the inadequacies of the law to handle mental health issues, Aderibigbe mentioned the moribund Lunacy Act of 1958 which provided that anybody who attempted suicide, but failed to achieve his aim should be punished for not dying.

“With the economic hardship Nigerians are facing and the number of suicide attempts as a result, we can only imagine the number of people who could be behind bars. Finally, the Nigerian government passed the Mental Act 2023 which seeks to protect people with mental health illnesses from all forms of abuse, violence and torture,” she stated.  

The law professor also sought amendment to the Matrimonial Causes Act, MCA, especially Sections 5 (1) (b) and 15 (2) (e) which equate epilepsy with insanity and a ground for voiding a marriage. 

“A person with an epileptic seizure is not in a state to commit  crime under the influence of psychosis. At best, he or she should be prevented from harming himself as a result of the seizures or being harmed by those around them who need only to give the person space and fresh air to allow the episode to subside. The word insanity itself is an outdated term of Common Law origin which is no longer considered a medical diagnosis of an abnormal behaviour.