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The need to urgently promote mental health

The World Health Organization defines mental health as integral to well-being that enables people to realize their full potential, show resilience amidst adversity, be productive across the various settings of daily life, form meaningful relationships and contribute to their communities.

Physical, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual and other interrelated factors contribute to mental health.

Mental Health is a concept that is beginning to gain popularity in Nigeria. Before now mental ill health was attributed to madness or those found in psychiatric homes, they were given inhuman treatment, put in chains and sometimes meant to go through spiritual cleansing which most times led to stigmatization not only on the mentally ill but their entire family.

But experts have said that mental health is a global challenge.   

Photo: Twitter/NigeriaHealth Watch

According to the US Centre for Disease and Control, CDC, mental health goes beyond ‘’emotional, psychological, and social well-being’’. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices’’.

In America for instance, the CDC has gazetted that more than 50% of the population will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime and that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.

The talk about mental health got to the limelight during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown when WHO said the rates of depression and anxiety went up by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic, adding to the nearly one billion people who were already living with a mental disorder.

Most countries still neglect mental health and do not provide care and support for the people affected. This has led to millions of people around the world suffering in silence, neglected, or experiencing human rights violations.  According to the World Health Organization, WHO, one in eight people globally lives with a mental disorder.

The World Health Organisation also corroborated this in its report that suicide; a form of mental illness is the fourth leading cause of death among young people, accounting for more than 700 000 deaths every year, with 77% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries including Nigeria.

In 2018, the Federal Ministry of Health rolled out the figure, indicating that about 20 to 30% of Nigerians is suffering from mental illness. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, posits that with a population of about 200 million, Nigeria has about 60 million people with mental illnesses. The figure could be higher even now.

Consequently, the media over the weekend was awash with reports that a young lady believed to be a staff of the Department of State Services, DSS, jumped into the Lagos lagoon. Such reports are rife whereby people jumped into the lagoon, while others reportedly take poisonous substances to end their lives.

This trend according to observers needs to be addressed as urgently as possible. 

Solutions

One of the ways to do this is for government at all levels to take steps to tackle the menace of mental ill health usually aggravated or triggered by economic hardship, unemployment and absence of basic amenities such as hospitals, good road, access to affordable health care among others which can lead to people feeling hopeless, lonely and isolated.

It is believed that without adequate counseling and help, more young people could see suicide as an acceptable norm. This can be encouraged through more campaigns and advocacy on mental health in markets, workplaces, schools, and places of worship.

For most of the world, the approach to mental health care remains ‘’a business as usual’’, because many have no established policies and plans to manage mental ill health holistically. There is a need to enact or review laws that border on mental health. Lagos state has taken the lead in this regard by recommending treatment for persons with mental health issues especially those with suicidal tendencies.

Governments should also fund and integrate mental health into primary health care. By so doing, it will reduce suffering and preserve people’s dignity while advancing the development of various communities and societies.

Writing by Annabel Nwachukwu; Editing by Tina Oyinsan