21 February 2013

Nigeria: 18 Million Nigerians Have Mental Illness, Says Specialist

Abuja — A United Kingdom-based consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Vincent Udenze, wednesday disclosed that over 18 million Nigerians, or 12 per cent of the population, suffer mental illness.

To help contain the high incidence, whose statistics he attributed to a 2005 WHO mental health survey prevalence, he suggested the setting up of a government agency to ensure a more robust complaint procedure in hospitals and other health institutions.

With this, he said the performance of health care providers could be better monitored as patients not well attended to could complain freely.

The psychiatrist also called for the introduction of "waiting time alert" that would enable authorities reduce the time patients have to wait to see the doctor.

In an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja during what he called Synapse Family Day, Udenze stressed the need for people to realise that mental ill health transcended the individual to involve members of the family, even if it was only the societal negative attitude to it and the family of the patient.

For that reason, he urged families to show more interest in the mental health of those close to them even as he lamented the breakdown of the extended family system.

While decrying the stigmatisation of the mentally ill, Udenze who is also the Medical Director of the non-governmental organisation, Synapse Services, said the ailment was like any other such as diabetes or hypertension, and patients didn't deserve to be stigmatised.

He stated that what the patients required was early intervention in their plight by family members and society at large, noting that those we see naked on the streets were there as a result of society's failure to assist them before they got to that condition.

According to Udenze, it was a lot cheaper to seek help for patients early than when the illness had degenerated to the point where they were totally helpless.

He acknowledged that drug-dependence played a significant role in mental cases but lamented that their relations were not helping matters by treating them as outcasts rather than give them the needed assistance.

The psychiatrist also noted that it was wrong for families to send their mentally ill ones abroad for rehabilitation only for them to come back to mix with the same old friends whose influence contributed to their condition in the first place.

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