A recent alarm that more Nigerians are becoming mentally ill has raised another major concern for the multifarious health and social problems facing the country. The report is frightening and pathetic. As an ailment and societal problem, mental illness or insanity affects the socio-economic and political growth of any society, as in the case of Nigeria. This fright probably derives from the reality that an insane society is an unproductive one and never does well.
Not too long ago, the management of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, FNH in Enugu, raised the red alert over the increasing rate of mental illness cases across the country. According to the hospital, cases of different forms of mental disorders are on the increase and so many Nigerians are affected though they are unaware. A top official of the hospital, Afam Ndu who raised the alarm said that the hospital in conjunction with the West African College of Nursing was holding a one-week course aimed at equipping Nigerians on how to avoid mental disorder and manage the ailment.
Experts define a mad person as one who is insane: one who behaves violently, deranged and possibly dangerous. Another authority describes mental illness as a spectrum of behaviours characterised by certain abnormal mental or behavioral pattern. It may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others. No matter how mental illness is described and how experts explain it for our better understanding, the risk factors associated with more Nigerians becoming mentally ill are better imagined than experienced.
Sad as it were no less than, if not more than 21 million Nigerians are currently living with psychiatric disorders according to an expert, a Medical Director with the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, FNH Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Rahman Lawal. Dr. Lawal noted that it is a stigma for a country to have psychiatric illness, especially with statistics placing about 12.5 per cent of Nigerians as having one form of psychiatric disorder or another. The statistics are also irritating and requires urgent reduction and it is ridiculous and unacceptable if the drift and bothersome apprehension must be reduced drastically.
Nevertheless, the causative factors which include, biological, psychological and environmental factors, chief which are the economic considerations needs to be urgently addressed by government as not much can be said of present and past administration doing the needful in this regard , especially in areas of providing adequate infrastructure and finance to arrest poverty and general well being of the people. Although it is reported that the number of federal neuropsychiatric hospitals has increased across the country, experts argue that much still needs to be done by both the federal and state governments, given the frightful nature of the growing menace of psychiatric conditions in the country.
The state governments, which were hitherto adamant, must rise to complement the federal government by setting up state psychiatric hospitals, where they cannot; they should establish neuropsychiatric departments in various general hospitals or health centres and then provide specialists to manage them.
This is going forward in order to get psychiatric treatment closer to the people than the current situation where patients travel longer distances to seek and get Medical care. Governments at the various tiers must employ adequate psychiatric doctors, nurses as most of them are out of the country in search of greener pastures, where conditions of service are much better. This is compelling especially now that the country has only 150 practicing psychiatrist doctors. The profession should be made more attractive in terms of remuneration to minimise brain drain.
In addition government must see to the welfare needs of the workers and retirees, by paying all arrears of salaries, allowances of pensioners and ensuring prompt payment of their wages for the reason that nonpayment of these earnings has caused many Nigerian workers to be wretched, homeless and in the long run mentally deranged.
We however join in drumming support for Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, which carried out a one-week sensitisation programme with the theme, “Expanding Awareness of Mental Health Challenges in Adults and Geriatrics”. The course, which focussed on current trends in psychiatric and mental health, drug and offenders, clinical assessment in adult and geriatric disorder, current management of geriatric mental disorders, treatment and rehabilitation of adult and geriatric mental disorders among others, is timely against the backdrop of the alarm bell over the growing numbers of mad persons in the country.
We salute this courage and urge other neuropsychiatric medical facilities nationwide to emulate FNH Enugu and carry out seminars and enlightenment campaigns to reduce this dilemma while government must also provide infrastructure, financing to psychiatric hospitals adequately and pay workers as well as provide a sound environment that will enhance mental stability of Nigerians and not the other way round.