By NBF News
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The recent disclosure by the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta, Dr. Adegboyega Ogunlesi, over the increasing number of Nigerians with psychiatric problems, is frightening.

The medic had at a seminar organized for primary healthcare professionals disclosed that mental illness patients at his hospital increased from 28,000 in 2009 to 42,000 in 2010. If the statistics reflect the situation in other psychiatric hospitals in the country, then the nation has an enormous health problem to contend with. Those in charge of mental health in the country should do something to address the disturbing phenomenon.

He blamed the situation on the 'institution-based care practice,' which the nation had focused on in over 70 years of psychiatric care. According to the psychiatrist, the institution-based mental health service has, over the years, short-changed Nigerians and has not delivered the value vis-à-vis the expenditure by government on the mental health of the citizens.

Ogunlesi's observations must have been informed by the fact that most mental health institutions in the country are located in the urban areas where there are many psychiatrists with virtually no service provision for the rural and semi-rural areas where majority of the citizens live.

As a result of this lopsidedness in mental care provision, the CMD surmised that most people with the commonest types of mental health problems such as depression, alcoholism and neurotic disorders will not patronize such stigmatized institutions like Aro.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that about 75 percent of people suffering from mental disorders in the developing world do not receive treatment or care. About 90 percent of those suffering from mental illness in the country do not have access to treatment. The 2008 figure of World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH) showed that mental disorders affect nearly 12 percent of the world's population. According to the Federation, about 450 million or one out of every four persons around the world is likely to experience a mental illness that would require diagnosis and treatment.

The dearth of specialists in psychiatric medicine and poor funding of the eight neuro-psychiatric hospitals in the country contribute to the growing number of psychiatric patients in the country. Nigeria is among nine African countries that are in dire need of psychiatric specialists. The countries include Liberia, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Burundi, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Available records show that Nigeria has 130 psychiatrists, four neuro-psychiatric nurses and eight neuro-psychiatric hospitals that attend to 140 million Nigerians. The ratio of psychiatrist to patients stands at 1:1 million patients as against 1:25 patients in the western world.

Besides, Nigeria lacks clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, medical sociologists and social workers. Ironically, of the 506 African psychiatrists in the United Kingdom, 214 are Nigerians. The poor remuneration of health workers in the country accounts for the brain drain.

Beyond the medical and lifestyle causes of mental illness, there is no doubt that stressful socio-economic conditions in the country can, indeed, induce mental illness in the citizenry. The bad governance experienced at virtually all levels of government in the country can easily dispose people to depression and other psychiatric cases. Experts link the onset of mental disorders to poverty, violence, social exclusion and constant insecurity. All these social vices abound in the country.

Apart from providing medical care to all mental illness patients, government should provide social safety-nets to cushion the effects of the prevailing harsh economic realities in the country. The aged and the unemployed should be given social security allowances.

While it is necessary to deploy more resources to mental health research, there is the need to make psychiatry attractive to young Nigerians. But this can only be possible if there is enhanced remuneration for medical doctors. To bridge the gap in treatment, let government site more psychiatric hospitals in the rural areas where majority of the citizenry live. All those manifesting any form of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and phobia, amongst others, should seek prompt medical attention.