Recent events in Nigeria have brought to the fore the need to pay attention to mental health issues in the country. The suicide of a doctor on Third Mainland Bridge in March 2017, the suicides and attempted suicides of young persons in universities in the country, and the attempted suicides of older women in Lagos, all reported in the news and amplified by social media, bring this home forcefully. So apt, then, for Nigeria is it that the World Health Organisation’s World Health Day 2017 focuses on Depression.
Few supports are currently available for mental health development and management in Nigeria. But the resources are growing by the day. New organisations focusing on mental health are emerging – providing awareness, online support groups, and connections with mental health professionals. E-health is being employed to manage these issues. PsyndUp, an e-health tech initiative, is doing excellent work in this area, creating online communities and connecting people with the help they need. These are positive developments and we look forward to supporting these organisations and new initiatives that promise to support persons living with mental health challenges and those affected by them.
Unfortunately, the news is not all rosy. The Mental Health Bill is still not yet passed. We have campaigned for this in the past, and we continue to do so now. With new avenues for support emerging, we need a regulatory structure to manage these and provide protections for people who suffer mental health challenges and their loved ones. Beyond that, we need to address fundamental issues of involuntary commitment, and the rights of persons living with mental illnesses. The Policy is not fully publicised. While we have done work in this area at CHELD, including through bringing it to the attention of the public, much more needs to be done to bring awareness to the Policy and evaluate its implementation.
Finally, stigma remains a huge challenge. To increase uptake of treatment, mental health issues need to come out of the shadows, not only through sad, dramatic stories of suicides, but through deliberate efforts at reducing stigma. I write a bit about the ways in which the law can support stigma reduction here. Much work needs remains on the ethical handling of cases. For instance, the Police in Lagos paraded the women who attempted suicide by trying to jump into the Lagoon. They also spoke of the fact that suicide is a criminal offence in Nigeria, although they were willing to provide support to the women. All of these exacerbate stigma and drives persons suffering mental health challenges underground.
“Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living. At worst, depression can lead to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Yet, depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of what depression is, and how it can be prevented and treated, will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help. “
– WHO Campaign for Depression Essentials
Depression and other mental health challenges are no longer over there. They are here, too. We need to speak up, seek help. We need to make help available. We need to institutionalise help.
Dr Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, CHELD.
The suicide of a doctor on Third Mainland Bridge in March 2017: https://www.olisa.tv/2017/03/lagos-doctor-jumps-third-mainland-bridge-apparent-suicide-see-photostweets
The suicides and attempted suicides of young persons in universities in the country: https://www.olisa.tv/2017/03/this-nigerian-died-hours-after-he-was-mocked-for-revealing-his-depression-its-time-to-build-national-suicide-helplines/
The attempted suicides of older women in Lagos: http://punchng.com/again-two-women-attempt-suicide-in-lagos-lagoon/
While we have done work in this area at CHELD: https://cheld.org/nigerias-national-policy-for-mental-health-delivery-2013/
I write a bit about the ways in which the law can support stigma reduction here: http://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/JLPG/article/download/34236/35208 WHO Campaign for Depression Essentials: http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/toolkit.pdf?ua=1