Mental health is considered one of the most neglected and stigmatized areas of health in Nigeria. Lagos, a growing megacity, which serves as the commercial and social hub for Nigerians is regarded as one of the most stressful cities to live in. This is based on some environmental factors which includes poverty, unemployment, epileptic power supply, bad road conditions e.t.c. The attitude towards Lagos amongst Nigerians is that it is a place where one can live and achieve their ambition. To an average Lagosian, stress is the norm and it is expected that one deals with the stress that comes with living in Lagos regardless of the negative impact it has especially on the mental health.
As part of the growing concern to address the mental health needs of Lagosians, the Lagos State Government organized the Lagos Mental Health Conference in January, 2022, themed “Responding to the Mental Health Needs of a 21st Century Megacity”. The event was held at the Landmark event center in Lagos. The event kicked off with the honourable commissioner of health, professor Akin Abayomi delivering a keynote address. He explained that the Lagos State Mental Health Conference is an offshoot of the Livable City Conference 2013. He stated that the conference led to the enactment of the Mental Health Law of 2019, the implementation of the mental health policy and the establishment of a proposed state-owned tertiary psychiatric hospital located at Ketu which is aimed at providing the needed mental health infrastructure in Lagos state.
Professor Abayomi explained that the second phase of the project would be a 1000 – bed psychiatric hospital and rehabilitation centre to further address the mental health issues in the state. He said on completion of the projects, the state would have more facilities to treat those with mental health issues. He noted that the facility would be an institute responsible for research of mental health and a hub for training of mental health professionals, providing support for mental health care.
According to Professor Abayomi, research has shown that cases of mental health have increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The commissioner added that the pandemic brought lots of stress and pressure on the people due to harsh economic conditions. Professor Abayomi listed the common mental health cases to include depression, anxiety, alcohol disorder and substance abuse. He further explained that the conference is aimed to identify opportunities and promote collaborations to strengthen investments which will address the mental health needs of Lagos State.
The conference welcomed various esteemed professionals who work in the mental health space such as Dr. Gbonjubola Abiri, Abiodun Adebuya, Gbadebo Soji, to mention a few. CHELD was duly represented by its Execuitive Director, Prof. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe and the senior legal officer of the organisation, Mrs. Ifeoma Okemini Arowolo. The panelist discussed the intersection between mental health and the law, the growing burden of substance abuse and suicide, mental health interventions, access to mental health services in the public and private sector and the legal ramifications of attempted suicide.
The speakers highlighted issues around mental health like stigma in mental health, mental health resilience, social support for mental health and community mental health. Professor Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, a panelist at the conference spoke extensively and passionately about the state of mental health in Lagos state and Nigeria at large. Prof. Cheluchi emphasised on the urgent need to criminalise attempted suicide, the need for a systems approach. She went further to share her experience with arrested victims of attempted suicide and thanked the ministry of justice and the lagos state government for their interventions especially in ensuring that the arrested victims are set free. She encouraged everyone to work collaboratively in promoting mental health and strengthen the mental health response on the state.Over the course of the event speakers highlighted the importance and progress made in mental health mandate in Lagos which includes governance, services, promotion and prevention
Governance- In regards to mental health, Lagos state is attributed with having the first modern mental health policy in Nigeria, the Lagos State Mental Health Law. The newly passed Law aims to provide persons living with mental health challenges access to adequate care and reintegration into society.
Health services and promotion – Attention was drawn to the multitude of collective factors that attribute to the deterioration of people’s mental health leading to mental disorders. Factors include economic downturns and the hardships associated with living in a mega city like Lagos. This led to speakers encouraging the need to provide efficient health services and promote the health of all Lagosians.
Provision of efficient health services involves the inclusion of mental health services, as physical and mental health constitute to an individual’s overall health.
The deputy governor, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat signed the lagos mental health pledge board on behalf of the governor of Lagos State,Mr. Jide Sanwolu pledging to priotize mental well-being and promote awareness about mental health.
CHELD is committed to ensuring that attempted suicide is decreminalised in Nigeria. Survivors are still further haunted by Nigeria’s legal system which views attempted suicide as a crime under rather than a cry for help. Survivors of are still being treated like criminals instead of being provided with adequate therapy, rehabilitation to prevent future attempts. CHELD views suicide as a mental health issue and advocates that the provisions criminalizing attempted suicide in Nigeria should, as a matter of urgency, be repealed.