Fuel scarcity predisposing Nigerians to mental illness – Psychiatrists Association
The Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN) yesterday decried the recent scarcity of fuel across the country, noting that such economic hardship, coupled with the level of insecurity, may likely cause majority of Nigerians to suffer from mental illness.
While stating that about 60 per cent of Nigerians have been documented to have significant mental illness, it noted that there are less mental health workers (psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, social workers, and occupational therapists) in the country to treat and manage patients, as more than half of them have been attracted to foreign countries.
It urged the government to decriminalise attempted suicide, stating that instead of punishing people who attempt to take their lives, they should be sent for medical attention.
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the President of the APN, Professor James Taiwo Obindo, urged the Federal Government to speedily pass the mental health bill, which upon assent of the President, would protect the right of mentally ill persons in the society to be treated humanely and with care.
He said: “The Lunacy Act looks at those who are mentally ill as being aggressive, nuisance and someone that needs to be kept in an asylum, away from the community. Rather than taking care of those that are mentally ill, the law tends to protect the community against them. Therefore, we felt that that law needed a review. As we talk now, the mental health bill has been passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives, and has been harmonised, and is now before the President for his assent. This has been between 2020 and early 2021.
“This bill talks about how to have a humane and globally accepted way of taking care of those who are mentally ill; what should be done and how the government is meant to fund and see to the wellbeing of those who are mentally ill.
“One of the other areas that need to be looked at is the criminal act CAP 237, which criminalises those who attempt to take their lives, and that needs to be removed immediately. Those who attempt to take their lives are prescribed one year imprisonment. Are we punishing them for being ill or for the socio-economic problems in the country? No, we shouldn’t. What should be done is that they should be referred for medical attention – psychiatric assessment. Even Ghana, Kenya, have decriminalised suicide attempts. We are pleading with the good people of the country and all stakeholders to rise up and see that the ill among us are properly and humanely dealt with?
“About 90 per cent of those who attempt to take their lives are known to have psychiatric problems. Out of this 90 per cent, 80 per cent are as a result of depression. Others are because of the socioeconomic conditions in the country.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of four of the population is at risk of developing mental illness. 20 to 30 per cent of Nigerians documented, are labelled under significant mental illness. Since we are talking about a population of over 200 million people, then we are looking at between 40 million to 60 million Nigerians having this illness. “
“In the last few years, Nigerians have had to deal with issues like kidnapping, attacks, socioeconomic downturns etc. The recent fuel scarcity – that an individual had to stay on the queue for more than three hours to buy fuel at an increased price – is a major stressor for Nigerians. You know that stress is a major predisposing factor to mental illness. If the well-being is affected, such that an individual is not able to realise his potential or find it difficult to work effectively or contribute to the society, and be able to overcome normal stresses of life, then the person cannot be said to be mentally healthy. If you look at this and you compare it all over the world, we have a greater predisposition to developing mental illness.
“We don’t have enough mental health workers in the country, and even the few that we have are all being attracted out of the country. We have about less than three hundred psychiatrists. The prescribed number is such that we should have nothing less than 1 to about ten thousand individuals. But what we have is 0.4 about ten thousand individuals; four psychiatrists to one million Nigerians. The psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, psychologist, social worker, as well as the occupational therapist work as a team. Psychiatric hospitals are also few.”