The Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH), University of Ibadan, says that Nigerian students have one of the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts globally.
Prof. Olayinka Omigbodun, the Director of CCAMH, stated this on Wednesday in Ibadan at a symposium held to mark the 2019 Day of the African Child.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme selected by the African Union to commemorate the day is: “Humanitarian Action in Africa: Children’s Rights First”.
NAN also reports that the Day of the African Child was set aside by the African Union in 1991 to recognise children who lost their lives in the June 16 children uprising in Soweto, South Africa.
Omigbogun, a consultant psychiatrist, said that 50 per cent of mental disorders had their onset before the age of 14, a period within which he said critical growth and development occur.
“Several studies identifying the health situation of children and adolescents in schools have been conducted by the CCAMH.
“The results of several needs assessment reveal a huge burden of health concerns within schools in Nigeria.
“A couple of years ago, our research team went into 22 rural and urban schools in Ibadan and studied about 2000 in-school adolescents.
“We have found that one in five of these students in our study reported thoughts of suicide while one in 10 said that they had attempted suicide in the last one year,” she said.
Omigbodun also said that they found that adolescents who came from unstable homes had higher rates of suicides.
She added that adolescents, who were exposed to sexual abuse, physical attacks, physical fights and bullying at school, were more likely to report attempting suicide.
The consultant psychiatrist also noted that one in five of adolescents in school use psychoactive substances which, according to her, are more likely to cause depression and conduct disorder among other mental health problems.
She called on government at all levels and private school owners to invest in sustainable school health and welfare programmes, saying that school forms an integral part of children and adolescents’ mental health and wellness.
“Promotion of health and wellbeing in school is a child’s right; children spend a lot of their formative years in school.
“Our children’s mental health is our nation’s future wellbeing. Despite the presence of a school health policy and programme in Nigeria, many students are not enjoying good health and wellbeing within their schools.
“In primary schools, we found up to 8 per cent of children had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a mental health condition characterised by inability to sustain attention and regulate ones activity level.
“We also found that many teachers did not understand or have the necessary skills to work with and help these children; whereas they described children with ADHD as stubborn, wicked, witches and evil,” she said.
According to her, paying attention to school health and wellbeing programme will increase school enrolment and reduce the rate of out-of-school children.
“Health and wellbeing are best addressed within the school system to facilitate learning and development.
“Schools are the most productive and less stigmatising platforms for providing health services for children.
“This is because schools are tailored toward learning and development and this makes them a natural context for prevention and intervention.
“There is considerable evidence that school-based mental health services produce positive effects on children’s emotional and behavioural functioning.
“Children and adolescents in Nigeria can no longer wait as their future hangs in the balance,” she said.
In her remarks, Mrs Funso Adegbola, Director of The Vale College, Ibadan, called on private school owners to invest in school mental health services.
Adegbola stressed the need for funding mental health programmes for adolescents and children to enable them live up to their maximum potentials.
She also decried the upsurge in the factors creating mental health needs, including the problems at home, hunger, depression, anxiety and negative peer influence.
“Researchers have found that access to school-based health services has high value for children, schools, and the country.
“At Vale College, we have a resident psychologist and we do mental health education, all of which have been of long term benefits to our students and the school,” she said.