Asido Foundation, a non-governemental organisation, has said that ‘illegal homes’ for treatment and rehabilitation of persons with mental health or substance use abuse problems will remain a fundamental problem if the widespread ignorance and misconceptions around mental illness persist in the country.
Asido Foundation founder, Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, said the parlous state of mental health services and human rights abuses of affected persons with mental disorders in Nigeria is a long-standing problem.
The recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled “Nigeria: People With Mental Health Conditions Chained, Abused. Ban Chaining; Provide Mental Health Services” had detailed several human rights abuses with thousands of affected persons chained and locked up in several ‘rehabilitation centres’, including some state-owned rehabilitation facilities, across the country.
These findings were validated by the recent police interventions that resulted in the release of hundreds of Nigerian citizens who were being held in very dehumanizing conditions across several illegal trado-spiritual facilities.
Dr Abdulmalik, a psychiatrist, said that 80 per cent of those with mental health problems in Nigeria still, miss out on quality mental health treatment and care.
He said that the report is an indictment of the poor state of affairs for persons and their families affected by mental health challenges.
“Majority of the detainees in such ‘illegal homes’ for treatment and rehabilitation stem from the widely held misconceptions about the spiritual nature of the problem – necessitating spiritual interventions.
“Thus, it is unfortunate, but not surprising, that human rights abuses, stigma, discrimination and untold suffering for affected persons and their families are the norm,” he added.
According to him, qualitative mental health services remains limited across the country, partly due to the grossly insufficient numbers of mental health professionals (psychiatrists and clinical psychologists) across the country.
He said the number of affected persons who fail to receive quality treatment for their mental health problems (the treatment gap) remains embarrassingly high at 80 per cent for Nigeria.
The psychiatrist, however, declared that mental disorders are a result of abnormalities of the brain that can affect anyone and across the lifespan without any respect for race, religious affiliation, educational status or attainment.
He assured that mental illness can be successfully treated with a combination of psychological, social as well as medical interventions.
According to him: “Persons diagnosed with certain mental health challenges can recover, and return to productive functioning. Others may have to manage the conditions with medications and go on with their daily lives just like people living with diabetes or hypertension.”
Asido Foundation, therefore, called for the promotion of better understanding and awareness about mental health problems and its risk in our society, as well as the elimination of the shame and stigma that is often associated with mental illness.