The month of May is dedicated to Mental Health Awareness, and every Tuesday on our Twitter page (@bellanaija), we will host mental health experts who will speak on everything mental health.
In the most recent episode of our Mental Health Awareness series, we spoke with Dr Iyewande Dipeolu-Dada, a medical doctor and psychotherapist, about “The State of Mental Health in Nigeria: A Psychotherapist’s View.”
Is it possible to lead a healthy life while dealing with mental illness?
It actually is very possible to lead a healthy life with a mental illness, the same way people live with chronic physical illnesses like Sickle-cell disease, Diabetes and Hypertension. A lot of people live with mental illnesses and struggle daily but we don’t see it, they go on with their lives because they have adapted the same way people with physical illnesses do.
Do you think increasing access to better mental health care will solve the problems associated with mental health in Nigeria?
Increasing access to mental health care will definitely not solve all the problems associated with mental health in Nigeria but it would improve the quality of people’s lives by first reducing unhealthy coping mechanisms, the risk of substance abuse, self-harm and suicide, family conflict, mental health problems, and worsening of already existing mental and physical health problems.
What are your thoughts on the condition of mental health institutions in Nigeria?
Well, like a lot of health institutions/facilities in the country, the mental health institutions are not left out with problems like poor maintenance of structures, understaffing, poor funding, use of outdated/defunct equipment. Fortunately, we as HCP have learnt to work with what little we have to ensure our clients receive the utmost best of care to improve the quality of their lives.
What can the government do to improve mental health in Nigeria?
The government has a lot of work to do in improving the mental health space in Nigeria. First off, the political will to make a change is paramount seeing as we still uphold the lunacy act and have a defunct Mental health policy that has not been reviewed since 1991.
They need to start creating, instituting and enforcing mental health policies that address mental & neurological disorders, acceptable mental health care, disabilities they cause & discrimination.
They also need to increase the funding of mental health facilities, fund research, employ more mental health professionals for these facilities. Including mental health education in schools for all ages is also very important.
What do you think is the way forward in ending the culture of silence and stigma?
There are so many things that can be done to help reduce the culture of stigma and silence. Some of them include: discussing mental health without shame/prejudice amongst your friends, family and colleagues; view people living with a mental illness as people not their illness, show empathy to everyone around you (you never know who is struggling), educate yourself about mental health and illnesses, also do your best to educate others around you too.
Speak up and encourage others to do the same when you notice signs of a mental illness as this encourages help-seeking behaviour and also ensures everyone gets the help they need.
How effective are treatments for mental illnesses? Do they really work and is complete recovery possible?
Treatment for mental illness is quite effective and is constantly being researched and improved. In mental health, recovery may not always refer to the same process of complete recovery we expect with physical health problems.
Personal recovery is person-dependent & entails working towards something important to you and having hope for the future. You may still have some symptoms when you are recovered but you are equipped to better handle them.
Have you ever had cause to fear for your life while working with people suffering from mental illnesses?
Most people with mental illnesses are actually non – threatening and non – violent when they’re stable unlike what the movies and media would have us believe. Regardless, it’s always best to observe universal safety protocols when you’re seeing them for the first time and trying to assess their mental state in emergencies, especially because you don’t know how poorly they are.
What can individuals do to help create a better environment for mental health in Nigeria?
Like I mentioned earlier in 5, individuals can help by educating themselves about mental health & in turn educating others because less ignorance helps reduce stigma. They also need to recognize how common mental health problems are, alongside the commonest presenting signs.
We also need to help those we recognize are struggling, advocate for mental health & MH education. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about your mental illness as you never know who your story inspires to seek help and take their mental health serious. Take care of your own mental health (know your normal) and don’t make jokes about mental health as this belittles the struggles of others.
What advice do you have for young people who are afraid to speak up about mental health issues?
It can actually be really scary deciding to open up to people about your struggles because you can never tell how they would react and, to be honest, no one wants to be judged for something they have no control over. Opening up to someone you trust or a trained professional is very helpful because you’re sure they wouldn’t judge you, it is a completely confidential encounter & sharing your problem increases your chances of getting a solution.
How do you think the private sector can join in creating a better mental health space in Nigeria?
The private sector is a giant employer of labour and can help by making the work environment more mental health-friendly for their staff by creating policies surrounding mental health, leave for MH problems, workplace bullying and harassment; and provide in-house counselling for staff. They can also provide mental health services (access to therapists and psychiatrists) as part of their health plans and compulsory yearly health checks with their HMOs.
They can also support mental health research, partner with the government by adopting and helping to maintain mental health facilities in the communities. They can also donate to mental health charities as part of their CSR because having quarterly workplace mental health seminars is not the only way to improve the mental health space in Nigeria.