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COVID-19 worsening poverty, mental illness — Psychiatrists

… As The Retreat hospital sensitises students on mental health

By Chioma Obinna

As Nigerians joined the rest of the world to mark the 2021 World Mental Health Day with the theme: “Mental Health in an unequal world”,   renowned psychiatrists have decried the state of mental health in Nigeria, lamenting that COVID-19 has increased poverty and mental ill-health among Nigerians.

In their submissions at an event organised by The Retreat Hospital, Ikorodu, Lagos, they argued that although the pandemic increased more awareness on mental illness Nigeria has failed to invest in mental health, making it impossible for over 75 percent of Nigerians with mental disorders to have access to treatment.

In the views of the Chief Executive Officer of The Retreat, Dr Olufemi  Oluwatayo, the  Coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented level of poverty around the world and the disparity between the rich and the poor has increased significantly.

Sadly, he noted, “Inequalities and poverty have been associated with mental ill-health and impairments in psychological wellbeing for decades.

According to him, with the rate of mental disorders being generally higher in people of low socio-economic background, COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of both the rich and poor and thus increasing  the  burden of mental  ill-health in Nigeria and the world at large.

Noting that many countries are investing more in mental health, Oluwatayo regretted that Nigeria is doing nothing.   “Where is the investment by our government and private investors? How can we meet the challenges of the increasing mental health burden on our nations? Where are the clever ideas and solutions?”  he queried.

Stating that The Retreat opened for patients in 2017 towards providing essential mental health services to Nigerians, Oluwatayo said the hospital is currently setting standards for mental health services and contributing its quota to mental health service provisions in Nigeria.

At the event which has secondary students from different schools in Lagos, a Consultant Psychiatrist,  Dr Femi Olugbile who decried the state of mental health services across the world said in Nigeria, the picture was as ‘bleak as ever’.


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According to him, most episodes of mental illness in Nigeria go undiscovered and untreated, leaving an army of ‘walking wounded’ in the population carrying out the rituals of everyday life. He said the issue of inequality as described in the theme of the World Mental Health Day was very important as among nations, individuals, resources are not equitably distributed.

Olugbile who said all the categories of mental illness exist in both rich and poor lamented that extreme poverty exists in some of the most deprived areas of Nigeria and the world at large was a vulnerability factor for many illnesses.

He said it is an unassailable commonsense solution that primary health care, including basic mental healthcare, deployed and made available virtually at every citizen’s doorstep.

In his presentation tagged: “Mental Health in a Changing World: Mental Health Initiative” an Associate Professor of Psychiatry Department of Behavioural Medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine, Prof.  Ayodele Olurotimi Coker who disclosed that over 75 percent of Nigerians with mental disorders have no access to treatment advised people to be happy and balance all the dimensions of health to keep them happy. He stressed the need for physical, mental, spiritual health and social wellbeing to self-actualise and enjoy beauty and quality life.  “Apart from improving our mental health, we must consciously seek for meaning and purpose in life to make our lives joyful.”  He lamented that mental illness affects the productivity and effectiveness of Nigerians as they adopt the learned helplessness model.

“COVID-19 pandemic will not go away soon; rates of mental illness associated with the pandemic may continue to rise. Policymakers should think of mental health surveillance & routine creening for common mental health disorders at the PHCs.  They should urgently train, engage and involve other health workers (nurses, social workers, community health workers, religious leaders, mental health NGOs, & life coaches in evidence-based counselling methods to assist manage the expected increase in mental health conditions.

Mental healthcare should be integrated into primary and secondary health care as soon as possible.” Calling for awareness, he disclosed that 1 in 10 persons suffer generalised anxiety like panic attacks, post-traumatic and stress disorder.  Also, 350 million people suffer from depression, 46 million from bipolar, 20 million from schizophrenia, 970 million from drug addiction and one person takes to suicide every minute.




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