Nigeria Confronts Daunting 90% Mental Health Treatment Gap, Government Takes Action
In a momentous revelation, Dr. Tunde Ojo, the National Coordinator of the National Mental Health Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health, unveiled a concerning statistic on Monday. He announced that Nigeria is currently grappling with a staggering 90% treatment gap in mental health cases. This revelation emerged during a press briefing in Abuja to mark the 2023 World Suicide Prevention Day, themed “Creating Hope Through Action.”
Each year, September 10th serves as World Suicide Prevention Day, a global endeavor to spotlight the preventability of suicide.
Dr. Ojo underscored that Nigeria has indeed made significant strides in addressing suicide prevention and enhancing the mental well-being of its populace. Over the past two years, the country has expanded the number of federal neuropsychiatry hospitals from eight to ten.
However, the pivotal issue revolves around the massive treatment gap, where only one out of every ten individuals in need of mental health services can access them. This disconcerting problem emanates from the scarcity of services, the paucity of human resources, and their concentration in urban areas. Meanwhile, the majority of Nigeria’s population resides in rural regions.
To grapple with this challenge, the government has set its sights on a strategy that involves integrating mental health into existing programs at the primary healthcare level. This approach seeks to bring essential mental health services closer to the people. The overarching goal is to destigmatize mental health issues and ensure accessibility, especially in underserved areas.
Dr. Ojo also shed light on the significance of the newly enacted National Mental Health Act, which is poised to facilitate mental health access for Nigerians. The act mandates the Ministry to formulate a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy. Currently, a suicide prevention strategic framework is in the works and is slated for validation soon.
However, Dr. Ojo pointed out that the act cannot address the decriminalization of suicide, as it remains a criminal offense under Nigerian law.
Ameh Abba, the Founder and President of the Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative, stressed the pivotal role of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in raising awareness and advocating for suicide prevention. Their overarching objective is to expand access and bolster support for individuals grappling with mental health challenges in Nigeria. Their strategy hinges on integrating mental health services at the grassroots level.
The mental health treatment gap emerges as a pressing issue in Nigeria. However, with a proactive approach, the government and CSOs aspire to instill hope and save lives by enhancing mental health services and fortifying suicide prevention strategies.