By Richard Lucky Momodu
Mental health is also a pandemic!
Special intervention funds, credit support facilities, regulatory forbearance, and tax reliefs, creation of isolation centers and employment and training of more workers.
The aforementioned are part of the many measures our federal government have taken to curb the corona strain as best as they can.
If it is possible for us as an underdeveloped nation to make such provisions within a few months, it shows that we actually do have the potential of becoming a promising civilization but have just been recalcitrant or downright heartless.
“In February 12th following the days when his demons taunted his mind with the familiar mental and suspiciously spiritual arsenal, his mind exploded. The manifestations of the war first took the disturbing forms of hysteria, unending soliloquy, physical attacks on objects in his room and hostile outcries. He claims to hear voices speak to him; they curse and ridicule me. They say that I’m worthless. They say my penis is small. And they jeer at me, at my acting mad, at my condition.
We can only get this information from him when he isn’t in the battlefield; the brief respites he gets, that allows him talk to the people around him, that is if they are not being targeted themselves.”
I wrote the above down, and more, some months after my paranoid schizophrenic brother went completely out of control and attacked our neighbor’s window. When we had taken him to the federal neuropsychiatric hospital, Benin City as an emergency patient, we had spent over four hours waiting to be attended to while we tried to placate his manic episodes that were worsened by a mild form of epilepsy. We were in the emergency room but nothing appeared to be emergent; I was watching patients suffer through agitation, hysteria, and sometimes quick naps as the expressions on the caregivers faces shifted between annoyance, frustration, and boredom. The nurses and orderlies there, did their best to keep things in order and I couldn’t help but commend their efforts because as a medical laboratory worker myself, I have experienced first hand the herculean expectations our healthcare system imposes on its workers when they were given sub-par resources or no provisions at all. But this is not to dismiss some of those horrible workers like a woman I met in the records department who acted towards me as if I had wronged her entire generation.
At long last, we were ushered into a consulting room with a young doctor who after evaluating my brother, suggested he be admitted for close examination. But as he said so, he looked troubled and soon after disclosed his apprehension. He said he feared that we would not be able to afford the bill as it would cost us over one hundred and twenty thousand naira (#120,000) for one-month care and management. This he said was also recommended as he wouldn’t have the chance to indulge in smoking which he commits to at home.
Indeed his worry was well founded as we had on us just ten thousand naira. I was saddened and furious at the same time, I couldn’t believe a federal government hospital could command so great a charge. With less than 300 psychiatrists in a country of 200 million citizens, an estimated physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 4,000 to 5,000 patients and the latest cut by almost 50% of the already inadequate funding that was initially allocated to Nigerian healthcare delivery, I knew the Nigeria healthcare system was a heartrending case that needed no broaching, but I was still angry. One never truly understands this unfavorable reports and statistics until one has to live their impacts.
Because of the high cost and general inadequacy of the mental health system of our country, my family had had to try traditional means also, but this traditional healers mostly want to eat goat or ram, and their price and effectiveness too, are outstanding and lacking, respectively.
Faith-based and traditional healing locations are usually the first places people looked to when they recognize mental illnesses as spiritual problems. They are also the last resort when psychiatric hospitals have exhibited deficiency and expensiveness.
“Many a times his manic battles just throws us into wistful thinking that halts our activities and we experience the quick passing of an Angel afterwards, except this angel leaves us with bolts of anxiety and depression. And we never have gotten used to it, even though we have been safe.”
The statement above, in italics, was also part of what I wrote down after the event I spoke of earlier concerning my brother. Now I want to say that we too, who are his immediate family and caregivers are also in need of psychological evaluation or mental therapy but I know our society and the economy doesn’t have room for such things, they barely do for major ones like psychosis and schizophrenia.
Covid-19 has put a lot of people out of their jobs and businesses but mental health has been doing the same since the beginning of time. My brother has not been able to get himself a job for a while mostly because of the stigma and because he is scared of hallucinating and talking to himself during work hours.
Granted, mental health may not share the same rapid contagion or demand the use of intensive care units like the corona virus does but according to a WHO report, approximately one person commits suicide every 40 seconds worldwide.
It is also pertinent to know that the corona-pandemic came with its own mental tension that needs to be addressed.
The solutions to Nigeria’s mental health crisis and by extension, the world, have become like many wake up calls that do not command any action. But as a careful reminder in the hopes that efforts will be utilized this time, here are some of the ways we can tackle mental health crisis:
1. Through the employment of more specialists and non-specialists that are adequately trained.
2. By creating fervent awareness of the urgency and pertinence of mental healthcare as much as we are doing for the COVID-19 crusade.
3. By prioritizing health care delivery over things like the Judiciary and the National Assembly during national budgeting.
4. By annihilating the stigma associated with the mental malady.
5. Through the collaboration of the public and private sector across communities to bolster efficiency in the delivery of mental healthcare service.
6. Through the use of modern technology, with legal backings, to aid in the prevention, awareness, and early diagnosis of mental illnesses.
7. By establishing extra well-equipped health care facilities with easy accessibility by the citizenry.
Finally, While we clamor for more bed spaces, staff and mental health facilities, we should also bear in a mind a very important factor: humanity.
A human rights watch survey in 2019 acknowledge that patients in mental health facilities were been maltreated through chaining and various forms of abuse such as starvation, beatings, unconsented Electroconvulsive therapy and forced medication.
This has to stop! Mentally strained people are humans too that deserve compassion and respect. – YA