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World Mental Health Day: Nigeria’s failure to repeal 60-year-old Lunacy Act hurts patients

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AS  the World marks Mental Health Day, attention is again drawn to the failure of Nigerian government to enact laws that protect mental health patients from stigma and discrimination.

Experts have described the existing Nigerian legislation on mental health as archaic. The legislation is named the Lunacy Act of 1958, enacted two years before Nigeria’s Independence from Britain.

A research published on Omni International indicates that the Act does not meet mental health policy global standards and regulations set by the United Nations. It finds out that the Act confined the mentally ill people in non-therapeutic, overcrowded, unsanitary, and dilapidated facilities in Nigeria.

A bill was introduced to the National Assembly in 2003, but was not passed into law. In 2013, it was re-introduced, yet it has not been signed into law. The bill is for an act to repeal the Lunacy Act.

Jolaade Phillips, the Campaign Director and Communication Officer of Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI) told The ICIR that the bill if enacted into will promote and strengthen mental health in the country. He said the rate of stigmatization and discrimination against the illness will reduce if the bill is enacted.

Phillips pointed out that a lot of hospitals in Nigeria have no focus on mental health.  “As a country, we should have a mental health Act if we want to improve the status quo,” he said. “People should have more access to mental health treatment at a more affordable rate.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the burden of mental disorders continues to grow in all countries in the world.

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The WHO-AIMS report of 2006, which is an assessment of the mental health system in Nigeria shows that there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in Nigeria. However, 12 years after this report, the Nigerian government appears non-nonchalant in addressing the issues.

The WHO mental health Nigeria’s profile in 2014

A Nigeria Health Watch report by Ukwuori-Gisela kalu, a consultant clinical psychologist,  noted that the lack of active policy and legislation for mental health has made the spiritual and traditional treatment of mental illness to increase.

The consultant said that a mentally aware Nigeria could exist if only there is a robust mental health law, policy and measures of treatment.

Timothy Adewale, the Medical Director of Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, on Wednesday at a press conference to mark the 2018 World Health Day,  said the hospital admits a record number of new patients with mental illness every month.

“On a monthly basis, we have record of 250 to 300 patients in our hospital. I am not talking about those ones who are already with us. These are the new patients,” he said.

Adewale urged the National Assembly to pass the Mental Health Bill.

Apart from the legislation, Nigeria has not funded mental illness prevention and treatment the way it should.

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According to the 2017 capital release document obtained from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation by The ICIR, Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Kware, Sokoto, budgeted N89.8 million for capital projects but only N44.8 million was released.

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