Asido Foundation Calls For End to Abuse of Persons With Mental Illness in Nigeria

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SWITZERLAND, NOVEMBER 18 – The Asido Foundation, a not-for-profit charity organization that seeks to counter the ocean of ignorance around mental health has called for end to the human right abuse of persons with mental illnesses in Nigeria.

In a press statement made available to Today’s Echo, the foundation also calls for the speedy passage of the Mental Health Bill.

Asido Foundation by provides evidence – based information, and engages in advocacy and intervention activities aimed at meeting the mental health needs of the Nigerian population.

Below is the full statement from the organization:

Preamble

The parlous state of mental health services and human rights abuses of affected persons with mental disorders in Nigeria is a long-standing problem. The situation has been brought sharply into relief by the recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled “Nigeria: People With Mental Health Conditions Chained, Abused. Ban Chaining; Provide Mental Health Services” and released on the 11th November 2019.

The report details several human rights abuses with thousands of affected persons chained and locked up across several ‘rehabilitation centres’ across the country. Even more worrying is the mention of similar abuses taking place in some state-owned rehabilitation facilities. These findings are validated by the recent police interventions that have resulted in the release of hundreds of Nigerian citizens who were being held in very dehumanizing conditions across several illegal trado-spiritual facilities.

Challenges

The fundamental problem remains the widespread ignorance and misconceptions around mental illness. The majority of the detainees in such ‘illegal homes’ were sent there for treatment and rehabilitation on account of mental health problems or substance use disorders.

These actions stem from the widely held misconceptions about the spiritual nature of the problem – necessitating spiritual interventions. Thus, it is unfortunate but not surprising that human rights abuses, stigma and discrimination and untold suffering for affected persons and their families are the norm.

The recent series of police interventions that have rescued hundreds of citizens being detained illegally across the country in very inhumane situations is a repeat of similar actions over time…such as that of the Soka Saga of March 2014, around Ibadan, Oyo State.

It is noteworthy that in that instance too, Soka was originally meant to be a rehabilitation facility for persons with mental health problems. But subsequently became a den for criminals.

The Human Rights Watch report is a damning indictment of the poor state of affairs for persons and their families affected by mental health challenges. The availability of qualitative mental health services remains very limited across the country, partly due to the grossly insufficient numbers of mental health professionals (psychiatrists and clinical psychologists) across the country.

Thus, the number of affected persons who fail to receive quality treatment for their mental health problems (the treatment gap) remains embarrassingly high at 80% for Nigeria. The reality is that mental disorders are a result of abnormalities of the brain that can affect anyone, and across the lifespan: from children (eg autism) to adults (depression, bipolar disorder etc), and eventually to senior citizens (e.g dementia). It is no respecter of race, religious affiliation, educational status or attainment.

Mental illnesses can be successfully treated with a combination of psychological, social as well as medical interventions. Persons diagnosed with certain mental health challenges can recover, and return to productive functioning. Others may have to manage the conditions with medications and go on with their daily lives just like people living with diabetes or hypertension.

Weak health governance structures (government priority, policy and plans, legislation and financing) remain a major challenge for effective mental health interventions in Nigeria. We still operate the antiquated mental health legislation, known as the Lunacy Act of 1958. Efforts to develop and pass a Mental Health Bill that is in sync with current best evidence/practice, which will promote and protect human rights and personal dignity of affected persons has not been successful thus far, after nearly two decades of efforts by the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN) and other stakeholders. Successful integration of mental health into primary care has remained a forlorn hope.

The Role of Asido Foundation

The Asido Foundation is a not-for-profit charity organization that seeks to counter the ocean of ignorance around mental health by providing evidence – based information, and engaging in advocacy and intervention activities aimed at meeting the mental health needs of the Nigerian population. It is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

The Founder, Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, is a psychiatrist, who has been writing weekly articles to promote mental health awareness in the Nigerian Tribune on Thursdays for the past 3 years. The column is titled “Your Mental Health & You”. The Asido Foundation aims to harness resources (human and material), for a more effective and impactful campaign for better handling of mental health issues. These articles have covered a wide range of topics including the huge cost of ignorance and misconceptions about mental illness; associated stigma and shame and impact on affected persons, their families and the society.

The articles have now been collated into a book titled “Optimal Mental Health: An Everyday Guide”. This is an informative book which should be in every home, school or organization as a do it yourself tool for all you need to know about mental health.

Call to Action

The Asido Foundation envisions a Nigerian society in which all persons will enjoy optimal mental health regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, religion or ethnicity.

This can only be achieved when there is a strong mental health system in place, with policies, plans, legislation, adequate financing and monitoring to ensure that minimally acceptable standards of care are adhered to. To accomplish this, we must banish ignorance about mental illnesses and their treatment. Citizens need to be well informed about mental health.

In order to achieve these objectives, The Asido Foundation calls on all concerned stakeholders:

▪ To promote better understanding and awareness about mental health in our society.

▪ Eliminate the shame and stigma that is often associated with mental illness which leads families to hide persons affected with mental away in illegal detention homes.

▪ Understand the risk factors that may increase the chances of developing mental health problems. Examples include traumatic childhood experiences, intimate partner violence, bullying, harsh work environments, harmful cultural practices, drug abuse among others.

▪ Urgent and expedited action by the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Assembly and all stakeholders to ensure that the Mental Health Bill for the regulation of mental health services is passed into law.

▪ Strategic planning evidenced by the development of a Mental Health Plan to accompany the revised Mental Health Policy of 2013.

▪ Consistent action and support for the Mental Health Desk at the Federal Ministry of Health and at State Levels (where available) to respond to the rising challenges of mental disorders.

▪ Sustained advocacy by civil society organizations, Development Partners and all well-meaning citizens to ensure that the persistent neglect of mental health over the years in Nigeria becomes a thing of the past.

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