RECENTLY, the Medical Directors of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State and Yaba Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos State, revealed that cases of mental challenges are on the rise in the country. According to the Provost and Medical Director of the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Timothy Adewale, the hospital admits between 250 and 300 new patients every month. Adewale made the revelation at a seminar organised by the hospital to mark this year’s World Mental Health Day. Adewale said: “On a monthly basis, we have a record of 250 to 300 patients in our hospital. I am not talking about those ones who are already with us. These are the new patients. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents are other major issues in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe s3x, dangerous driving and crimes.”
This is without doubt scary statistics that portends grave implications for the mental health of the country. This is considering the fact that the published figures may not have captured patients in various herbal and religious homes who are not being taken care of by the orthodox method and these are also bound to be many. If a national figure is to be extrapolated from the existing data, a scary portrait will evolve. Quite frankly, even a pedestrian contemplation of the Nigerian situation readily explains the prevalence of mental challenges among the people. If mental challenges are spurned by frustration, the Nigerian reality is no doubt a fertile ground for it. To say the least, there is despair among the populace.
For the most part, Nigerians regularly suffer in their daily interactions with the state: they are almost always left holding the short end of the stick. From the youth who is frustrated by the virtual lack of job prospects to traders who do not make enough sales to afford a decent meal per day, and from the government worker who has not earned salaries for months to the technician suffering from sustained lack of patronage, the country offers a plethora of causes for mental challenges. Usually, when the coping mechanism finally buckles, the victim ends up in the sanatorium. The increase in cases of drug abuse is another factor in the growing cases of mental challenges. Seemingly happy and fulfilled individuals, including housewives, have been found to be hooked on drugs. Many of them erroneously seek coping mechanisms and escape routes in substances that trigger off mental instability. The desperation for quick fixes, especially among the youth population, has lured many of them into self-destruction.
Besides, the economy has not helped in any significant way. As a matter of fact, it has worsened the situation. While it may seem preposterous to link rising cases of mental challenges directly to the economy, careful analysis will show that it has a lot to do with the misery indices and the levels of frustration in the society. Unfortunately, the kinship system in Africa which somehow provides a buffer zone for the individual has been attenuated over the years by the continuous individuation of society, increasing the alienation of the individual. The toll on human resources is untold.
The society must come to grips with the fact that mental challenges are just like any other medical challenges and should not be stigmatised. People living with mental challenges need compassion, not condemnation. On its part, the government should do whatever it can to mitigate mental challenges among the population. It should take steps to buoy the economy and ease the processes through which citizens interact with the Nigerian state. In this regard, we endorse the call by the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital boss for investment by government and the involvement of social, health and education sectors and the media in comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programmes for the mental health of young people. There is no doubt that raising awareness among adolescents and young adults on mental health is a positive step.
Needless to say, the mentally ill must not be allowed to roam the streets. It should be possible to avail them of the required care. This is part of the process of making life worth living for the citizenry.