Nigeria lacks holistic approach to improving rights of mentally-ill persons

AN expert in health law and policy, Dr Cheluchi Onyemelukwe says Nigeria lacks a comprehensive and holistic approach to improving the human rights of people living with mental health illness that correcting it will start with a review of existing laws on mental health issues.

Dr Onyemelukwe, Executive Director, Centre for Health Ethics Law and Development, speaking at the Asido Foundation’s UNASHAMED 2020 mental health virtual conference, said the various laws had negative implication on their human rights and the way individuals see and treat people living with mental illness.

She stated that these laws still promoted stigma by retaining derogatory terms, criminalizes attempted suicide and criminalizing substance abuse instead of harm reduction or rehabilitation among other things.

Dr Onyemelukwe stated that  although Nigeria had domesticated the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities as well as enacted a law on this,  little was being done to implement it to ensure that their right to the subsidisation of special needs education and free medical and Health Services in public institutions was upheld.

She added that the abuse of the fundamental human rights of people living with mental health stem from the stigma attached to mental health condition, including the discrimination, torture, inhuman treatment of mental health conditions and Nigeria’s obsolete mental health laws.

President, Association of Psychiatrist in Nigeria, Professor Taiwo Lateef Sheik said mental health legislation for Nigeria before the National Assembly would increase access and protect the rights of the citizenry, increase funding and ensure a very strong coordinated and deliverable mental health policy that is backed by an appropriate strategic plan.

Sheik said that Nigeria’s current lunacy act actually dated back to 1916, adding that “it does not understand the language of mental health; it does not speak the language of mental health. In fact, throughout that act, there is no mention of mental health. It’s all about Lunacy.”

The don, who remarked that stigma stemmed from lack of awareness on mental health problems and constituted a huge barrier to effective delivery and uptake of mental health care service, urged for increased support to ensure Nigeria has a compassionate mental health law that would increase awareness, break down stigma and make mental health more accessible.

Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, Founder, Asido Foundation noted that in Nigeria and globally, mental health problems were increasing daily and yearly, with one in every four persons suffering from a mental health problem at some point in time.

He added, “life as we knew it has been turned upside down by COVID-19. There are mental health problems that are worsened by COVID -19 and new ones are coming up with the ongoing ENDSARS protests.”


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