Lagos seeks to reduce deaths from mental disorders

…renews commitment to implement safety policies

The Lagos state government has set a fresh target to slash a third of premature deaths triggered by mental health disorders through initiatives aimed at prevention, treatment and promotion of well-being.

The state hopes to build on existing policies on sustainable mental health care programs and services for people suffering from mental illnesses and create a safety net for them within the society.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos governor on Tuesday said public misconceptions around mental challenges need to be rectified with more open conversations on the topic, speaking at the Lagos Mental Health Conference.

He said the state has renewed resolved to achieve improved outcomes as it works to play a lead role in the delivery of sustainable, efficient and effective mental health services to Nigerians.

A mental health institution is under construction in Ketu Ejirin, he said, touting it could be one of the largest in West Africa, if not in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Mental health is one of those issues in our society that is still very largely misunderstood and whose conversations still happen in secret. This is despite the fact that we all know someone who is struggling with one form of mental health challenge or the other, like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and those we have lost to suicide,” Sanwo-Olu said.

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A Lagos State Mental Health Survey in 2016 cites data estimating about 800, 000 people die by suicide yearly, representing 11.4 per 100, 000 population globally and 6.11 per 100 000 population in Nigeria specifically.

Suicide is a public health threat estimated to contribute more than two percent to the global burden of disease by the year 2020, especially in the sub-Saharan African countries where services are scarce.

The governor, acknowledging the difficulties faced in accessing mental health services, said the lack of courage to seek help, or poor awareness of the locations of service providers could be inhibiting access. He further admitted that existing institutions and resources that provide these services are often stretched to the fullest.

Sanwo-Olu assured that the reduction of stigma and discrimination of mental illness remain priorities within the state’s development agenda for health, adding that it is geared towards ensuring access to effective and sustainable services.

The “Lagos State Mental Health Policy and Lagos State New Mental Health Law” was passed in 2019, providing for the protection of those suffering from stigmatisation and a framework for developing an effective and robust Mental Health Service.

“As a Government, we are working to partner and collaborate with other sectors, to create a strong network of operations, facilities and programmes that will address some of these challenges,” he said.

Akin Abayomi, the commissioner for health, said that the promotion and protection of the health of residents leave a positive impact on social development and quality of life adding that the continuous improvement in quality of health service in the state is a core mandate.

Citing the increase in the number of citizens with mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse and psychotic disorder before COVID-19 and after the pandemic, Abayomi said that the new Lagos Mental Health Law seeks to protect citizens against stigmatisation and discrimination and increase access to mental health services.

Meanwhile, mental health experts and stakeholders at the conference have advocated building and sustaining investment in mental health to promote, protect and restore the mental health of citizens.

They noted that better information, awareness and education about mental health and illness; improved health and social services for persons with mental disorders; and enhanced legal, social and financial protection for affected persons could improve health outcomes.

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