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Jan 11 2023

The New Mental Health Bill And How It Affects You

Mental health is a significant issue in Nigeria, with high rates of mental illness and a shortage of mental health services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 14% of Nigerians experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. The most common conditions are depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

WHO claimed further that Nigeria has Africa’s highest cases of depression and ranks 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide. Also, there are less than 150 psychiatrists in Nigeria, a country of over 200 million, and only about 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need.

However, mental health care in Nigeria is underfunded and inadequate, and there’s a shortage of trained mental health professionals. There’s a significant stigma surrounding mental illness in the country, and as a result, many people with mental health conditions don’t receive the help and treatment they need.

Notwithstanding, mental health legislation has been virtually nonexistent. Nigeria has had no mental health laws, save for the ambiguous Regional Lunacy Law of 1958, which perceives all mental health issues as madness, without any mention of prevention and treatment.

In light of the urgent need for humane and inclusive mental health reforms, for over 20 years, various stakeholders in the mental health sector have advocated for a new mental health bill. President Muhammadu Buhari has finally signed the Mental Health Bill into law; the 1st Mental Health Act/Law post Independence, which will replace the Lunacy Act of 1958.

What Does The New Mental Health Bill Entail?

The new mental health bill addresses the following issues:

  • Creation of a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health.
  • A Mental Health Fund to cater to mental healthcare in Nigeria.
  • An establishment of human rights protections for people with mental health issues, such as disallowing discrimination in employment, housing, medical services, and other social services.
  • Improving mental healthcare by guaranteeing patients’ rights to participate in formulating their medical plans.
  • Elimination of forced treatment, seclusion, and other methods of restraint in facilities.
  • Accessibility of mental healthcare.
  • Treatment of the mentally ill without stigma or discrimination.

How Does The New Mental Health Bill Affect You?

Nigeria has recorded high levels of insensitivity and stigmatization towards those diagnosed with mental illness across many communities. In some Nigerian societies, mental illness is viewed as a spiritual issue rather than a medical one, and seeking help for mental health problems may be seen as a sign of weakness.

Nonetheless, the new mental health bill can make life better in many ways. Some of these ways include:

  • Ensuring that people with mental health conditions have access to appropriate and high-quality mental health care and support. 
  • Ensuring that people with mental issues have the right to make decisions about their treatments.
  • Making sure that patients won’t be subjected to involuntary treatment without due process. 
  • Protecting the confidentiality of people with mental illness by guaranteeing that their personal and medical information is not disclosed without their consent.
  • Prohibiting discrimination against individuals with mental illness in employment, housing, and other areas of life.
  • Providing funding for mental health services and support, including therapy, medication, and community-based programs. This will make it easy for you to access therapy, counseling, or medication to help you manage your mental illness. 
  • Protecting the human rights of people with mental issues by ensuring they’re treated with respect and dignity. 
  • Establishing standards for the care and treatment of people with mental illness, including the use of seclusion and restraints. For instance, banning chaining, torture, starvation, beating, cutting of the skin, and other forms of coercion. 
  • Establishing a process for individuals with mental illness to file complaints about their treatment and have those complaints investigated. 
  • Promoting awareness and understanding of mental illness and reducing the stigma surrounding it.

Although there’s still a long way to go to develop Nigeria’s mental health sector, this bill is a step in the right direction. We now need executive implementation so that the government can make mental health a national priority. 

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