Concerns On Mental Health Imperative

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Increasingly, mental health is becoming a national concern even as it is not consciously given the needed attention across the country.

The situation is worsening with analysts saying the nation’s most pressing worry is the shortage of mental health professionals. In their submission, there is currently, only about 200 psychiatrists and 1000 psychiatric nurses serving over 200 million people in Nigeria, whereas the standard practice is for one psychiatric doctor to care for 10,000 patients. This postulation is indeed a far cry from the standard.  

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, Nigeria is grappling with a staggering mental health crisis, as millions of its citizens suffer from various mental disorders. It estimates that a whopping 20% of Nigerians, or around 40 million people, are affected by mental illness.

Some of Nigeria’s most prevalent mental illnesses include depression and anxiety disorders. Recent statistics suggest that about 7 million Nigerians (3.9% of the population) have depressive disorders, and 4.9 million Nigerians (2.7%) suffer from anxiety disorders. On top of this, substance abuse disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders are common.

Despite Nigeria’s huge mental illness burden, the country faces severe challenges in addressing the problem. 

Across the continent, the statistics is scaring, revealing the scale of the issue  – Kenya has only about 80 psychiatrists and 30 clinical psychologists, South Africa boasts 22 psychiatric hospitals and 36 psychiatric wards, and Ghana has three psychiatric hospitals and about 20 psychiatrists.

The situation is further compounded by cultural barriers and stigma surrounding mental health. Other healthcare professionals look down on mental health professionals due to this stigma; as a result, psychiatrists are usually a last resort for very dire patients. Additionally, patients are typically referred to behavioral and clinical/counseling psychologists when it’s too late, oftentimes after seeing and receiving medical treatment from psychiatrists. 

The most pressing issue is the country’s shortage of mental health professionals. Estimates have it that only about 200 psychiatrists and 1000 psychiatric nurses serve over 200 million people, whereas the standard practice is for one psychiatric doctor to care for 10,000 patients. Beyond psychiatrists, there is also a shortage of psychologists. Psychologists are key professionals in providing services for people with mental conditions such as behavioural problems, learning difficulties, depression, and anxiety. Currently, there are only 319 licensed clinical psychologists that are registered with the Nigerian Association of Clinical Psychologists ,NACP; however, estimates suggest that there could be 400-500 clinical psychologists in Nigeria. There are several discrepancies in the level of qualifications among clinical psychologists in the country – some have received online training or a 6-month certification programme, while others have acquired a professional doctorate – making it difficult to know the true number of certified and experienced clinical psychologists. Nonetheless, these numbers are alarming statistics for the country’s considerable population.

The situation is further compounded by cultural barriers and stigma surrounding mental health. Other healthcare professionals look down on mental health professionals due to this stigma; as a result, psychiatrists are usually a last resort for very dire patients. Additionally, patients are typically referred to behavioral and clinical/counseling psychologists when it’s too late, oftentimes after seeing and receiving medical treatment from psychiatrists.

We must necessarily reverse the brain drain for psychiatrists and psychologists towards unlocking better mental health service delivery. There is a need to establish more training institutions and programmes for mental health professionals in Nigeria. Partnerships with societies such as the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria ,APN, and the Nigerian Society of Clinical Psychologists could be leveraged to provide these training opportunities. This will address the shortage of mental health specialists in the country and improve the overall quality of mental healthcare in our country.

We urge for the government to increase health budgets to improve the accessibility, quality, and affordability of mental health services.

It is apt to state that with more resources, it will be possible to establish additional rehabilitation centers and train more mental health professionals, thus improving access to quality care and support for those in need.

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