Mental Health Issues Are Very Big Issues
“My empathy gets to a whole new level when I see people whose minds are considered “not normal”.
In my early teenage life, I struggled with anxiety that persisted for years, till my second year in Pharmacy School in Central University, Ghana. I was obsessed with movies and series which portrayed minds and behaviors that are off the norms.
L. Samuel in the movie ‘Glass’ expertly portrayed the life of someone with multiple personality disorder. People do have and live with visible multiple personalities such as bi-polar diseases, including schizophrenia etc. Mental health challenges are real and anyone can be affected by it.
The 2006 (WHO‑AIMS) report on mental health system in Nigeria shows that there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The only existing Mental Health Policy document in Nigeria was formulated since 1991. Considering its time of formulation, no revision has been made, no formal assessment of how and/or if it was implemented. No desk office exists in the ministries at any level for mental health issues and only four per cent of government expenditures on health is earmarked for mental health.
People with mental health challenges are human beings and they deserve the right healthcare services to properly manage their health complications including availability of essential medicines at health centers, availability of physicians to attend to them at primary health care centers and psychotropic medications. Daily, we sit in our cars, walk the streets and see what we call “mad people”, Person wey don craze and yet do nothing for them. Almost, always persons with mental health illness are left in bad state, without shelter, food, cloths and the females get sexually abused with multiple pregnancies.
Mental health disorders are not uncommon, and the global burden of mental health disorder is projected to reach 15% by the year 2020. By this time, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse related disorders, will disable more people than complications arising from AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and terrorism combined. This is a fearful future and poses serious questions as to why mental health disorders are not given much more attention that it currently receives.
In Nigeria, an estimated 20%–30% of the population are believed to suffer from mental disorders. This is a very significant number considering Nigeria’s big population size, of over 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health continued to flourish.
Considering the current economic climate in the country, it is even more crucial to also look at the economic burden of mental health disorders. When we take into account the lack of productivity in our country, incompetent leadership, get rich too quick syndrome, the burden of mental health disorder cannot be underestimated. It is quite clear that health is wealth, so a healthier population translates directly to a wealthier nation. Nigeria as a country could do better with people who can perform at their very best to ensure we maximize the full potential of our human resources. From a social point of view, a mentally healthier population would be less prone to suicides, depression, reduced incident of drug abuse and misuse.
What is the way forward?
The way forward starts by recognizing that mental health illness can affect anybody, and must see mental health as a major concern for public health and even the economy. Collaborative partnership is needed among the Government, health care practitioners, private sectors, and NGOs. Awareness creation on issues around mental health becomes a necessary second step, particularly to create safe environment for people to seek help without being demonized.
Mental health illness goes way beyond being “a person wey head no correct wey dey waka naked for the street”. A perfectly, physically healthy individual can suffer from serious mental illness in the form of Generalized Anxiety disorder or something else. Mental health issues are very big issues. Therefore, the issue of mental illness must be prioritized.
Written by Chisom Victor Ukaegbu– a pharmacist and mental health advocate who is passionate about promoting gender equality – getting boys and men involved to accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare services.