Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa and the 9th most populous country in the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that fewer than 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to a psychiatrist or health worker because there are only 130 psychiatrists in the country of 174 million people and only about three percent of the health budget goes to mental health.
Mental health refers to as an integral and essential component of health. The WHO constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
WHO estimates that the number of mentally ill Nigerians ranges from 40 million to 60 million. Disorders like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are common in Nigeria, as in other countries in Africa.
According to Richard Adebayo, a consultant psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist, acting medical director in federal neuropsychiatric hospital, Yaba, said “We are financially suffocating. Overhead cost was reduced in the 2015 from N149 million to N40 million in 2016, a 77% decrease.
“So what we get monthly can barely bear for electricity let alone diesel. About N2.6 million was used last month for diesel and we are running two different centres. The cost of feeding has increased from N5million to N7 million per month.” He stated
“The government needs to honestly look into the direction of mental health and see how the practitioners can be integrated.” He added
In Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa triggers of mental illness such as unemployment and violent crime are at critically high levels. Kenya has only about 80 psychiatrists and 30 clinical psychologists, fewer than its 500 psychiatric nurses, of which only 250 work in mental health.
According to the WHO, yet the country spends only about 0.05% of its health budget on mental health.
In 2012, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organisation, estimated that 2.8 million Ghanaians (out of a population of 25.9 million) had mental illness.
Ghana has three psychiatric hospitals and about 20 psychiatrists currently. The HRW report cited the then-director of Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr. Akwasi Osei, as saying that drug-related psychosis affected 8–10% of all mental patients, while 20–30% of patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia, 20% with bipolar disorder, and 15–20% with major depression. Sadly, 97 out of 100 mental patients who need health care have no access to these services.
According to an expert, in South Africa and Kenya, there are more psychiatrists per capita, as well as more psychiatric beds per capita.
The mental health sector is only marginally better in more prosperous South Africa, which boasts 22 psychiatric hospitals and 36 psychiatric wards in general hospitals.
Inequality, however, skews these facilities in favour of only about 14% of the population of 53 million, of which one-third are afflicted with mental diseases and 75% of mentally ill South Africans have no access to psychiatric or therapeutic care, experts say.
The WHO estimated early this year that 450,000 people in Sierra Leone which has a population of just over 7 million suffer from depression every year, and that 75,000 suffer from schizophrenia. There are only 250 hospital beds for psychiatric patients in the country.
In September 2015 the United Nations General Assembly included mental health and substance abuse in the global Sustainable Development Goals, marking the first time world leaders recognized mental health as a global priority. African countries can begin to act on this recognition by increasing their spending on mental health; currently African countries dedicate on average less than 1% of their health budgets (themselves minuscule) to mental health, compared with 6 -12% in Europe and North America.
Adebayo said “Our attitude towards victims of mental disorder. It is unfortunate in this part of the world that people still hold on to cultural and religious belief about mental disorder on patients, even relatives. Those of us that are practitioners, health workers, care givers; the society stigmatizes and look down on us, especially our patients.”
“Most patients are brought to us when their conditions are critical and chronic and it is unfair.” He noted
He further explained that “Patients that manifest dementia are labeled witches and wizards. In other parts of the world, people have done away with such practices and orientation, but we still hold on to them.
“Patients suffering from mental disorder should be seen as human beings and we should say no to Stigmatization and reach out to help them.” He added.