Every year since 1948, awareness for mental health is observed in May in the United States. During this month, a variety of activities are run based on different themes. Basically, the aim of such activities are to help those afflicted with mental issues to overcome their challenges. The general American public is also encouraged to live a healthy life by taking positive lifestyle choices. Other activities aim at helping to fight the stigma surrounding children with mental disabilities and fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness in adults.

Seeing as the American designated day came about presidential proclamation, one would wonder why there’s no such thing in Nigeria, or even why the government is silent on mental health issues. Considering that we’re all in the 21st century, one would question the government’s silence.

The answer is simple, Nigerian lives are not a priority for the government of today, so everything, especially mental health issues are supposed to be hushed about.

A few weeks ago, a man from Cameroon tried to commit suicide in Lagos, Nigeria in a public place. Though it is strange, the fact is that these things happen. Nigerians are committing suicide too. Late Eniola Jacobs, a student of the University of Lagos, allegedly committed suicide by drinking sniper. Everyone from friends, to colleagues to other students tried to rationalize why he would commit suicide. They said his grades were good and he seemed very okay. But the truth is there is more to it than meets the eyes.

A lot of people suffer from mental issue without even knowing. With reference to both our religious and cultural backgrounds, such issues would be deemed spiritual and capable of being sorted by prayers. Maybe that is why the government does not deem it fit to ensure that the mental health sector is well equipped with suicide hotlines, psychiatric hospitals that are filled with the necessary infrastructure and what not.

Going back to the Cameroonian man, it will be recalled that the Lagos State Government was involved. They did not respond on time. According to eye witnesses, they got there 9 hours later though they had been called persistently through the day. Neither have they said anything of reasonable value concerning this obvious misfortune. The man could have died and someone in the Cameroonian government or his relative could have brought an action to sue the Lagos Government for negligence.

Nigeria as a whole for the most of it is quiet about mental health issues. It is only now that Non-governmental organizations and private institutions are springing up to the rescue, but how far can they go without regulations in place? Mental health issue is important and crucial because to be totally healthy, your mental health plays a fundamental role.

In the Report by the World Health Organization, mental health is largely neglected in Nigeria. The 7 mental health facilities which were tested are owned by the government. They found that children and adolescents do not have beds in these hospitals. They also found that there are no laws to regulate admission of patients or to protect the patient’s rights.

What is mental health in Nigeria if there are no laws to protect patients?

This is appalling for a country that is dubbed the giant of Africa. When comparing Nigeria to other countries in Africa, most other countries are way ahead of us. The attention given to it in Kenya, South Africa and Egypt shows their government care. They could do more, but they definitely care. At least more than Nigeria.

It is imperative that the Nigerian government starts to care. In light with everything going on in the country, it is important that they show some sympathy and take the necessary step to fund and create more psychiatric hospitals, as well as create the necessary laws required. It will not be enough for Nigeria to have a month to observe the issue.

Author: Ope Adedeji