Every year, the 10th of October is celebrated as World Mental Health Awareness Day. Mental health is a fundamental aspect of human existence, and it encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their potential in life, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.” This definition underscores the fact that mental health is not merely the absence of mental disorders but a holistic state of well-being.
This year’s theme; Mental health is a universal human right recognizes that having good mental health is a universal human right and that everyone deserves to live in environments where mental health is protected.
Good mental health is vital to our overall health and well-being. Yet one in eight people globally are living with mental health conditions, which can impact their physical health, their well-being, how they connect with others and their livelihoods. Mental health conditions are also affecting an increasing number of adolescents and young people.
Having a mental health condition should never be a reason to deprive a person of their human rights or to exclude them from decisions about their own health. Yet all over the world, people with mental health conditions continue to experience a wide range of human rights violations. Many are excluded from community life and discriminated against, while many more cannot access the mental health care they need or can only access care that violates their human rights.
Over the years, efforts have been made in Nigeria to make mental health accessible to all and to protect the human rights of Nigerians as regards to mental health.
In January 2023, the previous administration, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a new Mental Health Act into law. This new act aims to protect the human rights of persons dealing with mental illnesses by abolishing the inhumane treatment that the 1959 Lunacy Act allowed.
According to the Lunacy Act, the properties of persons with mental illnesses were to be sold in order to raise payment for their treatment and throughout the Lunacy Act, derogatory terms such as “lunatic” were used to refer to individuals dealing with mental health challenges.
The new Mental Health Act, however, prohibits the use of the word “lunatic” to describe individuals dealing with mental illnesses as well as the tying, flogging and further brutal and animalistic treatment of mentally ill individuals.
The Mental Health Act also aim to promote accessible mental health treatment by the integration of mental health services into primary care thus making mental health services accessible to all communities.
In Nigeria, as in many other countries, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of mental health as a universal human right. The Nigerian government is also taken steps to address mental health challenges and promote mental well-being. However, there are nevertheless enormous demanding situations to overcome:
Stigmatisation surrounding mental health issues persists in Nigeria. Many individuals with mental health conditions face discrimination and are reluctant to seek help due to the fear of being labelled as “crazy” or “mentally unstable.
Nigeria faces resource constraints in providing adequate mental health care services. There is a shortage of mental health professionals, and mental health facilities are often underfunded. As a psychiatrist practising in Nigeria, I’m just 1 out of the 250 that are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of one million Nigerians which negates the WHO standard of 1 doctor to 600 patients.
Many people still lack a basic understanding of mental health and its importance.
Cultural beliefs and practices also influence attitudes towards mental health. In some communities, traditional beliefs stigmatise mental health issues and promote harmful practices.
Recognising mental health as a universal human right implies that every person has the right to:
Access Mental Health Care: Adequate and affordable mental health care services should be accessible to all individuals. This includes the availability of mental health professionals, medications, and support systems.
Be Free from Stigmatisation: Discrimination and stigmatisation based on mental health conditions must be eliminated. People with mental health issues should not face prejudice or marginalization.
Pursue Education and Employment: Mental health should not be a barrier to education or employment opportunities. Everyone should have the chance to achieve their goals and participate fully in society.
Enjoy a Supportive Environment: Social, familial, and community support systems should promote mental well-being. Relationships and environments that foster mental health should be encouraged.
Mental health is indeed a universal human right, and it is essential to recognize and protect this right in Nigeria and around the world. By promoting awareness, eradicating stigma, and investing in mental health care services, Nigeria can make significant strides in ensuring that every Nigerian has the opportunity to enjoy good mental health and well-being