By Matthew Agboma Ozah
Every year, like clockwork, swathes of people under a defined umbrella go through some routine to bring about the awareness on certain issues that affect humanity. Given the need as an obligation to keep society abreast with one of the most widely known diseases, it has become an annual ritual on October 10. As the entire world goes about its several dealings many of which are in merriment as champagne glasses are lifted and clinched. The World Health Organisation (WHO) brings to the fore a mind boggling report of those suffering from mental disorder. The other day, WHO released a frightening figure that, about one billion people globally are living with mental disorder and that three million people die from harmful use of alcohol, while one person dies every 40 seconds through suicide.
In Nigeria, however, cases of mental disorder have reached to a pendulum between gloom and optimism. This is because when you listen to government and its officials talk about a well articulated plans and policy put in place to address mental health challenges, one would assume that the issue is as good as tackled. But, when you see cases or deteriorating condition of mentally unhealthy patients, you have to pinch yourself to make sense of it all. Though, Nigeria cannot be said to be the only country in the world where mental health patients face deplorable situation. Cases of mental disorder in Nigeria may not be as bad as in America or South Africa just to mention a few that its public square is piled high with heartfelt tales of lamentation from ill treatment of mental health patients. Any political system that ignores provision of basic societal amenities or treats with tepid attention cases of mental disorder puts the entire society in great danger. Such a deplorable situation illustrates wide failure in the health sector because of corruption even as it highlights government’s deepest flaw in accountability.
Nigerians for instance, especially the youth have their heads clouded with worries. They fret about anything that is of necessity to human beings which makes life worth living. The difficulty of finding a job after what seem like eternity in graduating from a four-year course but wasted seven years in the university because of the Academic Staff Union of University’s (ASUU) lingering strikes or trying to start a small business or make efforts to get married to raise a family having come of age. But paucity of fund builds a brick wall in between these ambitions or for one reason or the other things seem not to work out as planned due to an ugly government policy or a perceived village witch-hunting from a relative. It is tempting that the above issues could particularly lead young people to behave and think negatively. Therefore, that underlying condition could lead them to the harmful use of alcohol and other dangerous substances and generally make people to fall among the WHO’s report of mental disorder that result in losing three million people annually. But, if one may ask, why should a young person contemplate taking harmful substances that may influence or lead him or her to commit murder or suicide? In the eyes of the public, such a person lack the ability to control his senses, therefore, is insane. However, as noted above, individual morality and a balanced life is one self restraint to address the issue of mental disorder. Therefore, government should as its obligation demands provide not just jobs but basic human necessities for the people.
It is indeed disheartening that the wave of mental disorder seems to be on the increase in recent times. This is not as a result of the usual highlighted underfunding of healthcare services where countries spend less than the stipulated 15 per cent of their annual budget on the health sector. Also, it is not lack of attention and public awareness to mental disorder. Rather as WHO rightly pointed out in a survey it carried out of 130 countries that reveal the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services. As it were, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered mental health conditions just as it has exacerbated the existing cases. The WHO findings reveal that COVID-19 pandemic fear could lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation and stroke. While inadequate care for people with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also vulnerable to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 infection and higher risk of severe outcomes and death. No doubt, the world has a handful of great challenges towards health issues. One of the mightiest clusters of all is mental disorder. Just like COVID-19 was initially seen as elderly and white people disease, mental disorder is often believed by little minded individuals as impoverished people and poor countries problems. But the picture at hand clearly shows that mental disorder is not a respecter of affluence, either country or individual. However, everyone would probably agree that mental disorder is seismic in relation to what leads to being mentally unstable. Notwithstanding the divide as in opinion, there is no denying the fact that many people have fallen since the advent of COVID-19, so are the lots of mental disorder cases. Yet, the alarming wave of deaths from both COVID-19 and mental disorder continues to sweep across societies and countries like hurricane.
Beyond the dysfunction and disinformation that create a false sense of wellbeing in government circles, majority of Nigerians are not mentally stable, any slight provocation could cut the short-fuse and the rest would be history like the innocent journalist who wanted to know ‘who is bankrolling you’. Both government and society should behave very appropriately towards mental health patients. There should be no stigmatisation or shift in attitude towards mental health patients because such act is worse than the illness itself. Under a more normal circumstance, government should set a clear policy agenda to not only respond to mental disorder patients’ needs but protect them through the legislature as well as in deed. This is because good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being, so says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a director-general at World Health Organisation.