By Ozioma Onyenweaku
I have previously written on the level of depression particularly among women and the young ones in Nigeria. We had, among many others, the case of Ms Adisa that drowned her baby in a bucket of water and reported herself to the police in a manner and fashion of one expecting a trophy.
Quite recently too we have the case of Hauwa Habibu of Diso Community in Gwale Local Government Area of Kano State of Nigeria who stabbed her two children to death, leaving her niece with serious stab injuries.
There is no doubt that both ladies had mental issues which were not recognized and addressed. Hauwa’s case was that she had even earlier explained to her husband her strange feelings but the husband kept asking her to pray believing that she was possessed.
Before now, World Health Organization, WHO, had estimated that one in four Nigerians, that’s about 50 million people, are suffering from some sort of mental illness. WHO went further to state that Nigeria has Africa’s highest caseload of depression, and ranks the 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide.
The Federal Neuron-Psychiatric hospital Yaba, one of the 8 Federal neuron-psychiatric hospitals in Nigeria, was reported as having a 22 % increase in the number of new patients with different types of mental illnesses in 2019. Each doctor then was tending to 50 to 80 patients per day including the 535 inpatients, and the 100 or more emergency cases who were rushed to the hospital each week.
The above report was before 2020, the year that presented the most trying period of our recent times. The year 2020 presented us with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a pandemonium that followed a peaceful protest by the youths.
It is safe to say that the events of this year have actually increased the stress level in the system. The effect on the mental stability of all can be appreciated if we understand the fact that stressful life situations such as financial problems, a loved one’s death, and trauma play very big roles in activating mental illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic grounded the economy and brought about a lot of financial stress, and raised the hunger level among citizens. Just while people were trying to get out of the pandemic to look for new lease of life, the pandemonium that followed the peaceful protest struck. With wanton destruction of lives and property, many Nigerians lost it. With the sad events, remaining sane has become a struggle among many Nigerians. Definitely, we must expect a spike in mental illness in Nigeria.
The Federal Neuron-Psychiatric hospital Yaba used to open 9 am to 1:30 pm but my recent fact-finding visit to the hospital shows that it now opens earlier and stays open till 5pm to enable the doctors catch up with attending to more patients that keep trooping in.
There is need for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to revisit its commitment to health care particularly mental health care in the country.
Nigerians now need more and better psychiatric care. There should be more commitment on the part of the government to ensure that more people get access to mental healthcare. Record has it that not more than 10% of Nigerians have access to the care they need.
A country of more than 200 million people having less than 150 psychiatrists is not encouraging at all.
Government is expected to show commitment by the resources it makes available to the healthcare sector. The instance of 2018 budget where 133 million Naira was allocated to the healthcare sector but only 10% of that amount released by the Federal government to the sector is sad news. With the increase and expected increase in mental ill patients, better and prompt funding by the government is desired. This is a ripe time for Federal Republic of Nigeria to adhere to the Abuja Declaration which stipulates 15% of total government budget to be allocated to health care sector.
Individually, we must look out for one another. Take action for every abnormal sign or complaint of any around you. Recognize any strange behaviour as deserving serious attention. We must change our mentality and perception of Psychiatric hospitals. Being referred to psychiatric hospital does not mean that the person has gone mad. No! When the head and brain get too stressed out by disturbing situations and events, a visit to the psychiatrist would do a whole lot of good.
Prayers work but we must back up our prayers with necessary and needed action. Don’t just pray and do nothing. Take needed steps and the prayers would coordinate the steps in the right direction to achieve a healing.