Most of the times, we think its only the man on the streets, walking half-naked and eating from the garbage bins that is a mentally ill fellow. It’s a fact that so many Nigerians in good clothes could be diagnosed of very serious mental illnesses.
It is quite unfortunate that majority of these victims and their loved ones resort to local doctors and healing homes for solutions to their problems which in the right sense needs professional medical attention. This is so because of the air surrounding mental disorders in Africa and Nigeria in particular. It is virtually a general belief in Nigeria that mental illnesses are spiritual and so should be taken care of spiritually. On the contrary, researches have proven that psychiatric problems are just like every other disease that invades the body system for which individuals normally seek medical attention. So why should the case of a mental illness be different? Even when some families can afford a specialist medical treatment for their loved one, this old-time prejudice still make them prefer a native doctor to a medical doctor.
It has been revealed from an interview conducted by ThisDay with the Medical Director of the Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital [FNH], Dr. Rahman Lawal, that more than 21 million Nigerians suffer from one form of mental illness or the other, which is a whopping 12.5% of the country’s population.
Dr. Lawal discloses the poor and pathetic state of the Nigerian Neuro-psychiatric health care system, saying that Nigeria has only eight psychiatric hospitals which are less than adequate compared to the disclosed number of psychiatric patients in the country. It is very obvious that most of the victims of mental illnesses are hardly financially stable to take care of their daily needs not to talk of paying for their treatments. Though the government is really doing a lot towards subsidizing the treatment bills, as he said, these mentally ill people and their families are still faced with the very discouraging problem of distance.
Secondly, Nigeria has only about 150 psychiatric specialists based in the country, giving us a ratio of 1 psychiatric doctor to 140 000 psychiatric patients! This is simply because most of them have left for greener pastures in foreign countries where their services are more valued and rewarding. He encouraged doctors to specialize in psychiatry so as to be able to meet the psychiatric needs of the country. He also called on the individual state governments to either build psychiatric hospitals or ensure there is a well equipped and functioning psychiatric department at the general hospital present in their state.
Finally, he seriously discouraged health workers from embarking on incessant strike actions. He emphasized that on no grounds should health personnel embark on strikes because of the critical nature of their job.
Nigerians are also encouraged to stop making the hospitals their last resort or worse still ‘a never-considered option’ in the cases of mental illnesses. They should rather seek professional medical attention promptly as it will go a long way to providing lasting solutions to the increasing psychiatric issues prevalent in the country.
What’s your opinion on this increase in mental issues, what do you think are the primary causes and solutions? Let’s know in the comment session below.