Following a surge in suicide rate among Nigerians, the federal government has been urged to allocate more resources to mental healthcare at the federal state and local government levels.
One way of doing this is to establish a helpline accessible across the nation, and allocating a chunk of the budget on training and establishing specialised mental health hospitals and facilities to meet the growing needs of Nigerians living with mental health disorder.
In an interview with this reporter, Mrs. Olusola Ephraim-Oluwanuga, Chief consultant psychiatrist/Head of Department, National Hospital, Abuja decried the fact that Nigeria has less than 180 qualified psychiatrists. She also lamented the lack of proper data to actually verify the actual number of people affected by mental health problems.
According to her, “On whether there is an increase on suicide in Nigeria, there is no figure or data to verify. What we can say is that there is an increase in reportage on the incidence of suicide. What we need is an accurate statistics , we need work on our statistics”.
“The reason why suicide is happening, we live in a world where there is more stress these days, before now we use to compete with ourselves but now we are competing with the whole world, that means people are more pressured and people don’t have as much time as they use to have for each other. There was a time all of us will go to work and when we come back we spend time to discuss and share ideas with people we care for at home, bit now everybody is busy with phones and they are chatting with other people . Even when you have a whole family in the same room each of them is chatting with another person.”
Ephraim-Oluwanuga noted that the reduction in social contact, reliance on technology and smart devices as well as a strong decrease in taking care of and looking out for each other are some of the factors responsible for the increase in mental health problems.
“Now Parents don’t have time to discuss with their children again, so the children don’t value life and they are the type that commit suicide. And there is lack of family value among us these days”‘ She noted that unlike what we see in developing country like Nigeria, advanced countries always set aside good budget and train medical personnel for this specialist area in health. She said developed nations are more proactive and and more likely to treat and deal appropriately with people living with mental illness.
“Yes we have people that come to consult us but they are not so many like we have in advanced countries, it is very rare before you see people come to see a psychiatrist in this part of the world. When you do see them come then you know something must have gone wrong already, unlike what we have in advanced countries. There will be a reduction in cases of suicide if more Nigerians are able to identify the symptoms of mental illness and go to seek help and support.
“if there is improvement mental health medical services there will be reduction in suicide cases. With the number of suicide we have in Nigeria by now we should have set up a National Suicide helpline whereby people can call in and talk to professionals at the other end and we don’t have to wait till when a thousand commit suicide!”
She implored the federal government invest more on the nation’s mental health services, noting that Nigerians should be able to have access basic health services at work places, at school, and so on. “A basic thing like having a counsellor to talk to when things start going wrong…. “ Also, Mr. Ben Ayeni, Board of Trustees of Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), said it is economic woes and hopelessness that push people to resort to suicide. He said it was imperative for the Federal Government to create modalities to prevent further incidents. “There is am urgent need to establish a national suicide clinic and helpline. He noted “A normal person should have means of meeting his basic needs but when he can not there would be problem. And Nigeria doesn’t have social security set up like advanced countries. Not all Nigerians want to be a billionaires or millionaires but they expect the government to create opportunities to be able to provide for their day to day basic needs”. Speaking in the same vein, Ifedilichukwu Uchendu, who heads the Psychiatric department. at specialist hospital gwagwalada, Abuja, said inflation and high cost of living are making Nigerians depressed and unable to cope mentally. “A lot of people end up committing suicide because the society don’t even have an idea of the symptoms to look for in mental illness to and are mostly ignorant about mental health and how to keep well. And there is the issue of stigmatisation…”
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