World Mental Health Day: de-criminalise mental health, says Pate

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Ali Pate, has called on Nigerians to de-criminalise mental health, but rather empathise with patients suffering from such diseases.

The World Mental Health Day is an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.

The day was established on Oct.10 1992, by the World Federation for Mental Health.

Pate made the call on Tuesday in Abuja, during the commemoration of the 2023 World Mental Health Day with the theme ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’.

Pate stated that no reason should mental health be criminalised in the present day.

According to the minister, we should have a progressive approach to look at it. Since we do not criminalise malaria, why should we criminalise mental health issues.

“I want us to look beyond celebrating this day and look closely at the individuals around us with the eye of empathy.

“Put yourself in their position. If you are suffering from a disease, there is no reason for you to be stigmatised or for it to be criminalised.”

He said mental health is an integral part of health which is a complete state of physical, social and mental wellbeing.

He added that there is a hidden epidemic of mental diseases globally and that 15 per cent of the burden of disease in Nigeria is a significant cause of morbidity and some mortality due to mental ill-health.

He stated that the Federal Government’s approach towards mental health issues or diseases is to take it from a narrow bio-medical one to one that really conceives it as a public health issue.

This, he said, requires a multi-sectorial and multi-stakeholder approach to address it.

“So this is what we have in our hands right now and that is what we need to do,such as the Mental Health Act, the policy, the guidelines to be developed, all of those represent an approach that we are taking as a country.

“So the access, affordability and quality of mental health care should be an important direction that we should take in the context of our strategic blueprint for health,

“We would include access, affordability and quality, not only for the physical but also for mental health,” he said.

He, however, said that guidelines need to be developed to operationalise the Mental Health Act that was passed into law in January.

“We need resources and I think the Federal Government will pull from the resources available but we are calling on states to prioritise mental health, put the resources in as non-state actors are also stepping in.

“The private sector has an important role to play also, because mental health undermines productivity in the workplace.

“The productivity of your workforce can be undermined by poor mental health in addition to physical mental health.

“We are calling on the private sector to look at the circumstances of their workforce and do things to make it easier for those who are ill to get the care, enablement and support that they need.”

the minister said mental health issues had been incorporated into the Primary Health Care system as frontline health workers would be trained to be more sensitive to look at the preventive early signs and be able to respond and refer for care.

On his part, he Minister of State, Dr Tunji Alausa, said beyond the traditional mental health issues, substance abuse among the youth has become a scourge that should be focused on.

“It is really affecting our society, it is actually causing disruption to the lives of our youths and adolescents and as government we are looking into this angle and putting programmes and policies in place to tackle this major scourge.

“I will also like to encourage families to work to reduce the risk as Religious leaders have a big role to play.

“Beyond what the government is doing protecting our borders, helping to regulate the kind of illicit drugs that are coming into the country, we all have to work collectively to end the scourge.

“What we have been doing at the ministry is to help de-stigmatise mental health in our country,” he stated.

Alausa also noted that there were several neuropsychiatry hospitals in the country but the ministry was working to change the nomenclature, to change the names of these hospitals from neuropsychiatric hospitals to Federal Specialist Hospitals.

He said, “focus is also ensuring the hospitals go beyond psychiatric care to providing other medical services which will complement the care for patients who have mental health issues that are admitted to these hospitals.

“Also, one of the things we are going to be working on is to incorporate mental care into our PHC centers.

“We already have counselling units incorporated into our PHCs and we will work on reactivating that and expanding beyond counselling mental health in our PHC centres so that they can have full continuum into provision of healthcare to our citizens.”

Also speaking the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu, said the commission looks forward to giving effect to the National Mental Health Act (2023) to enhance realisation of Mental Health Rights in the country.

Ojukwu, who was represented by the Deputy Director, Investigation (Monitoring), Iheme Richmond, called for humane treatment of persons with mental health conditions, psycho-social or cognitive disabilities as they are also beneficiaries of Right to Dignity of the Human Person.

He said that the Presidential Assent to the Mental Health Bill earlier passed into law by the National Assembly in 2021 represents a commitment of government to progressively realise right to health pursuant.

“This is to its obligation under the international Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Remarkably, the Act reaffirms Mental Health as a Human Right.

“Furthermore, the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. This includes Mental Disability.

“The next line of action should then be having the legislation operationalise.

“How available is mental health care in the country? How accessible are they? Are they affordable?

“It needs to be underscored that availability, accessibility and affordability are central to government obligation in relation to all economic, social and cultural rights,” he said

The NHRC, therefore, urged the government to take further progressive steps to give effect to the legislation in order to enhance mental health in Nigeria.

“It is critical for government to urgently scale up measures to address economic and social conditions that affect mental wellbeing of persons in Nigeria so that they will have the appropriate mental health balance to contend with life.