The revelation by the Federal Government that an estimated 60 million Nigerians are suffering from mental disorders is worrisome. The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, who disclosed this at the mental action committee and stakeholders’ workshop in Abuja, attributed the development to inadequate attention paid to mental illnesses. In Nigeria, an estimated 20-30 percent of the population are believed to suffer from mental disorders.
Mental disorders in the country are generally fuelled by misconceptions and lack of public awareness. It has been established that mental illness can be caused by economic hardship, depression, distress and anxiety. It is estimated that more people will be disabled by psychological challenges than complications arising from HIV/AIDS, heart disease, accidents and wars combined by the year 2020.
Some of the mental disorders that afflict Nigerians include depression, anxiety, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and others. A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
Globally, about 450 million people are reportedly suffering from mental illnesses. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. In Nigeria, it is estimated that one in five youths have mental health issues while one in four adults (12 percent) will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Generally, young people between the ages of 14 and 45 have challenges with anxiety and depression.
Unfortunately, many youths with anxiety may not go to the hospital for treatment. Mental disorder is further exacerbated by stigma because it prevents those with the condition from accessing treatment. The prevailing economic adversity in the country may have also contributed to the rising cases of mental disorder.
The abuse of drugs such as tramadol, codeine, alcohol and other dangerous substances can cause mental disorder. Sadly, about 70 percent of Nigerian youths indulge in substance abuse.The most unfortunate thing is that the majority of people that suffer from mental conditions do not even know they have such challenges.
Only an insignificant number of the Nigerian population can willingly undergo psychiatric evaluation. In fact, if anyone is sighted near such a facility or suspected to be suffering from mental illness, such a person may suffer stigmatisation.
But experts have lamented that the country does not even have the number of mental health facilities that could cater for the health needs of the citizens. Although the tertiary and secondary health care facilities have departments that offer psychiatric services, no fewer than 15 public neuropsychiatric hospitals exist in the country to cater for the mental health needs of about 200 million people. The figure, no doubt, is grossly inadequate.
In advanced climes, specialised health facilities are readily available. In Nigeria, the few psychiatric hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of patients. There is no doubt that Nigeria is in dire need of more psychiatrist hospitals.
It is high time the government established more health facilities solely devoted to caring for those suffering from mental disorders. The government should also train more psychiatrists to ensure that those with mental disorders are given adequate attention. It is not good that there are about 300 psychiatrists to Nigeria’s estimated 200 million people.
There is need for enlightenment campaigns on mental illness, the causes, preventive measures and where to access treatment. We enjoin Nigerians to seek help when they are having depression or any form of mental disorder. To reduce the rising cases of mental disorder, the government should also subsidise the cost of treatment. The civil society and the media should raise awareness about mental disorders. Nigerians, above the age of 40, are advised to go for a comprehensive medical test, at least, once a year. Let all tiers of government and other stakeholders work jointly to tackle the increasing cases of mental illness.