Nigeria’s mental health legislation, called Lunacy Ordinance, was first enacted in 1916 to highlight the importance of the well-being of citizens. According to the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), more than 60 million Nigerians suffer from mental illnesses.
Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that one in every four Nigerians has a mental illness. The absence of mental health legislation over the years has also clogged the wheel of progress.
On the back of this, Nigerians welcomed with open arms the cheery news of President Muhammadu Buhari signing the mental health bill into law decades after mental health regulatory reforms had gathered dust in the legislative chambers with failed attempts at overhaul in 2003 and 2013.
Benefits of the newly assented mental health law
The new law, the Lunacy Act of 1958, which mental healthcare practitioners condemn as obsolete and inhumane, will cease to be effective, signifying the beginning of a new era for mental healthcare in Nigeria.
The law promotes a more organized and structural process; the law provides for creating a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria. It also makes provision for a Mental Health Fund. This is germane as the mental health budget is between three to four per cent of GDP, with over 90% going to a few neuropsychiatric hospitals, primarily funded through the national government’s health budget.
The mental health law will also establish human rights protections for those with mental health conditions against discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services. Hence, this move will further provide a better pedestal for inclusivity and stem the tide of stigmatization.
To provide better health conditions for patients, the law makes it illegal to subject mentally ill persons to forced treatment, seclusion, and other methods of restraint in mental health facilities.
To provide safety nets and further nip stigmatization in the bud, the law provides for the establishment of human rights protection for those with mental health conditions.
It also guarantees that those receiving treatments have the right to participate in formulating their medical plans and cannot have forced treatment, seclusion, and other methods of restraint in mental health facilities.
As part of being progressive with current times, the law also addresses the way and manner mentally ill populations are to be catered for and also demand global best practices in enshrining the human right of the mentally ill, how care can be accessed, and outlawing chaining or other forms of coercion.
To promote professionalism on the part of health workers, it is expected to help regulate mental health practitioners’ activities and eliminate stigma and discrimination.
Myths and misconceptions about mental health
With increased awareness drawn to mental healthcare after the historic feat of the assent of the mental health bill, some misconceptions about mental health should be debunked. They include:
Mental health conditions are permanent
Not all disorders stay with a patient for life. However, some disorders may require lifelong treatment, commitment to therapy and medications. Medical Advancements have given room for the successful treatment of some of these conditions.
Mental illnesses are a result of demonic possession
This is not true! Mental health-related illnesses are not cases of spiritual warfare. It is essential to see a professional, get the correct diagnosis, and seek treatment.
People with mental illness are ‘special’
Mental illness is not a death sentence. People with mental illnesses or disorders can lead a normal life with a combination of medication and therapy.
People with mental illness are dangerous
When mentally ill patients become violent, most times, this is because they might be off their medication which may aggravate their condition. This further emphasizes the importance of being surrounded by caring individuals.
Putting the correct information out there allows for better treatment of individuals with these conditions and medical progress.
While signing the mental health bill into law in Nigeria is the first step in the right direction for the country, implementation, which is a significant challenge for many policies, must be taken seriously to make this law different. The best time to have this law was before, but the next best time is now.
The researcher produced this fact-check per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Summitpost News to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.