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On Sunday 18 March, Nigerians woke up to the very tragic news that a young man parked his SUV on the popular third mainland bridge in Lagos and jumped into the lagoon into the very cold hands of death.
It became even more tragic when news filtered in that young man, Allwell Orji was a medical doctor. But then his death was later traced to depression according to reports in the media, an illness that is hardly discussed in Nigeria.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is embarking on a global campaign to have conversations around the stigma surrounding mental illness, including depression, which acts as a barrier to people seeking help throughout the world.
“Depression affects people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries. It causes mental anguish and impacts on people’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends and the ability to earn a living,” says WHO.
According to WHO, over 300 million people are now living with depression, which has become a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
Shekhar Saxena, director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at WHO said one of the first steps in addressing depression is to deal with issues around prejudice and discrimination.
“The continuing stigma associated with mental illness was the reason why we decided to name our campaign Depression: let’s talk,”
“For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery.”
The organization finds that depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, and has even become more prevalent than malaria, which only accounts for about 212 million cases each year.
Depression in Nigeria
Mental health experts say millions of Nigerians currently suffer from depression which has become a major form of mental illness and this includes even teenagers.
The recent case of Allwell Orji, a medical practitioner who jumped off third Mainland Bridge has become an obvious case of what depression can result in.
The mental health practitioner further averred that the notion that it is a leading cause of disability and one of the commonest forms of disorders is true because it impacts on people’s ability to carry out their everyday tasks with sometimes overwhelming consequences for relations with family and friends and the ability to earn a living.
Mental health is not only a matter of family or public concern but also it is a huge economic global burden.
“Yes, depression can be prevented and treated if more people understand what depression is, that will help reduce the stigma related with the condition, and lead to more people seeking help and getting support from family”
Owoeye Olugbenga, a consultant Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist at Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, Lagos said the criminalisation of suicide was predicated on the Lunacy Law made by colonial leaders.
“Our lawmakers should review the Mental Health Law in line with what obtains in other countries, especially developed nations. The bill is already with the Senate.”
“They should make provision for the treatment of those who attempt suicide rather than get them arrested. As the law is being repealed, the government should also fund the psychiatry hospitals. There are fewer than 500 psychiatrists nationwide to take care of 170 million people. We even have fewer clinical psychologists and psychiatrist nurses. These are not enough to take care of the psychiatry needs of the nation,” said Olughenga.
Urgent need for increased investment
The WHO has also advocated for increased investment in psychiatric healthcare in many countries as there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders.
Treatment for mental disorders usually involves either a talking therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of the two. Both approaches can be provided by non-specialist health-workers, following a short course of training, and using WHO’s mhGAP Intervention Guide.
“A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated, while essential, is just the beginning. What needs to follow is sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world,” says Saxena.
via Business Day