OHAFIA, Nigeria — Nigeria is a country with a population of more than 200 million people with about 60 million people going through mental health issues. Stigmatization and reduced awareness are major barriers to accessing mental health services in Nigeria. While the awareness of mental health challenges in Nigeria is still minimal, people believe that this challenge develops as a result of drug abuse, evil spirits and some form of brain sickness. In spite of this, mental health initiatives in Nigeria are working hard to see positive changes take place.
Causes of Mental Health Challenges in Nigeria
There are various reasons why stigma is still very much present with regard to mental health. People being told to keep quiet about what they are going through and the way the media portrays mental health problems are two main contributory factors.
Age Groups and Gender
The Borgen Project spoke with the CEO of Blueroomcare, Moses Aiyenuro who stated that “mental health issues can affect individuals from all backgrounds. However, certain factors may contribute to trigger vulnerability among specific populations”.
He further elaborated that young adults in various phases of their lives may experience mental health problems as a result of their academic, societal and career expectations. Women, due to gender discrimination, domestic violence and reproductive health problems.
He added that “Adolescence is a critical phase for mental health, and Nigerian adolescents face numerous stressors. Academic pressure, peer relationships, body image concerns, family conflicts and societal expectations can contribute to mental health difficulties during this developmental stage. Professionals in high-pressure work environments, such as corporate settings or health care, may experience stress, burnout and mental health difficulties. The demanding nature of their work, long working hours and inadequate work-life balance contribute to these challenges.”
Asides from the causative factors listed above, poverty and unemployment have also played a role in the negative effects on mental health among Nigerians leading to suicide, depression and anxiety disorders.
The Effect of Infrastructure
The effect of few and inadequate skilled workers has increased the burden of this condition. There are very few neuropsychiatric hospitals in Nigeria and with more than 60% of Nigerians living in rural areas, accessing basic health care, let alone mental health care is almost impossible, according to The Sun. This has led to people traveling long distances to have access to these health facilities.
Also, out of 36 states in Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, there are only nine psychiatric hospitals owned by the Federal Government.
The issue of understaffed personnel also poses a challenge to the mental health situation in Nigeria. There are about 300 psychiatrists in Nigeria and this number cannot cater to the needs of 200 million Nigerians.
Initiatives to Help Reduce the Effect of Mental Health Challenges in Nigeria
Despite the negative effect of mental health on Nigerians, the government introduced a new, more effective law and NGOs are helping to bridge the gap with respect to stigma reduction, provision of infrastructure and easy access to online health services.
In 2021, a bill on mental health was passed into law after two attempts of re-appealing the more than 100-year-old bill failed. The formal bill described those with mental health challenges as “idiots” or “lunatics” and gave the law the opportunity to criminalize their offense. The new law known as The National Mental Health Act not only eliminates the use of these words but has also made provisions for mental health professionals, created centers for substance abuse persons and included the rights of individuals.
The Federal Government also plans to implement policies relating to substance abuse and mental health.
The law allows for patients to be treated in a safe environment with access to rehabilitation and continued care. This law could also help in raising awareness thereby reducing stigmatization among those going through mental health challenges.
Blueroomcare, a startup in Nigeria that provides mental health care services through an online platform launched its application in 2022. Aiyenuro had experiences with anxiety and depression. During this time, he found it difficult to access mental health services and this led him to develop Blueroom care.
According to Aiyenuro, “I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy and convenient for anyone to access mental health services, regardless of their location or financial situation. I assembled a team of experts in mental health, technology and business, and we worked tirelessly to develop a platform that would be user-friendly, affordable, and effective”.
Mental health care has come a long way in Nigeria from the previous law to a more efficient law that recognizes the place of confidentiality and human rights. This new law could help improve public awareness of mental health issues thereby reducing stigmatization. Other mental health organizations are also helping to bear the burden of the poor mental health care system in Nigeria. Although Nigeria is not yet there, the country has recorded significant improvements.
– Chidinma Nwoha