Nigeria has recently enacted its first Mental Health Act in 2021, replacing the outdated Lunacy Act of 1958 that labelled mental illness as ‘lunacy’ and violated human rights.
The new Act aims to provide comprehensive and integrated mental health services, protect the rights and dignity of persons with mental disorders, and promote mental health awareness and prevention in the country.
However, some experts and advocates have raised concerns about the implementation and effectiveness of the new Act, as well as the challenges and gaps that still exist in the mental health sector.
One of them is a Labour Councillor for West Thamesmead in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in the United Kingdom, Lade Hephzibah Olugbemi, and the convener of the NOUS Charity Incorporated Organization, which is a local organization that promotes mental health awareness and prevention.
She was instrumental in pushing for the enactment of the new Act, as she attended a conference on suicide prevention organized by her organization in 2019, where she met Senator Oloriegbe, the chair of the Health Committee in the Senate then, who gave her the assurance that he would sponsor the bill.
In an interview with Arise Television on Wednesday, she expressed her satisfaction with the passage of the new Act, but also highlighted the need for more action and collaboration at the grassroot, middle, and top levels.
She said: “Before 2021, we have the Lunacy Act, which is an old Act that had been fully operational in Nigeria but very much thanks to Senator Oloriegbe.
“My organization which is actually local, active in Nigeria as well, we actually did have a conference, the first international conference on suicide prevention and one of the assurances that Sen. Oloriegbe, which was the chair of the Health Committee in the Senate then gave us that he was going to push to make sure we have a mental health Act.
“We had the conference in 2019 and in 2021, I’m sure quite a lot of NGOs in Nigeria and a lot of us on the outside who are watching and observing were very glad to see it become an Act. It’s not just a paper exercise but there’s still a lot of work to be done underground, a lot.
“It’s not good enough to have a Act, it’s like you have a bulldog that is tied down and not able to work. The whole essence of the Act is being able to implement it. We need to use the instruments, we need to implement what the Act says.
“There’s a need to do the grassroot mobilization, the awareness, the capacity building, the training, there’s a need to make sure our primary care sectors are in place, ready to respond appropriately, we need to make sure that the hospitals are set-up, the right type of medication that is affordable, what i call Public-Private Partnership, all that is important.
“People often think the government should do this and do that but I believe very strongly that the government needs to collaborate with the private sector. We need to be looking outside Nigeria as well. There’s a lot of international agencies out there that will be happy that there’s an infrastructure on ground that they can build on.
“We can work with some pharmaceutical organizations to provide with effective medications. I’m very well aware that antipsychotic drugs are extremely expensive. So, for example, a person has a DHD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar, do you know how much it costs for them to maintain their medication every month? It’s going over one hundred thousand naira and how will they be able to afford that?
“It’s not just talking at the top level, I’m glad we’re at the mental health Act but there’s a need to talk at the middle level and also to talk at the grassroot.”
Olugbemi, who is also a mental health nurse and a survivor of depression, has been involved in various initiatives and campaigns to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health issues in Nigeria and the UK.
She co-hosted a symposium titled ‘Let’s talk about loneliness’ on May 14, 2022, to mark the mental health awareness week, where she shared her personal story and encouraged people to seek help and support.