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Nigeria – American Institute for Mental Health launched in Enugu

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Nigerian medical professionals in the USA particularly those in the fields of psychiatrists, psychologists, advance nurse practitioners in osychiatry and licensed professional counselors, have successfully launched a body which is also a discipline known as Nigeria – American Institute for Mental Health.

The event, with its theme: Towards primary mental healthcare system, was launched at the Peter Mbah Law Auditorium, Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, on Saturday, April 13, 2024.

Presenting the keynote address, Dr Azubike Aliche, president of the Nigerian Mental Health Practitioners USA, talked on “what needs to change” about mental healthcare in the country.

According to him, there are basically nine cardinal points to tackle in the move for a more balanced and improved mental healthcare in Nigeria. He said, “Let’s begin with the mind – how we think of mental illness and the mentally ill. Many Nigerians think of mental illness as being caused by evil spirits or something that arises from a curse from the gods.

“Others think of mental illness as something that was inflicted through witchcraft, etc. Some people think of the mentally ill as if they did something to bring the illness to themselves.

“These beliefs, rooted in our culture and traditions, make us want to isolate the mentally ill, a reason we put them in asylums. There, they are abused and mistreated physically and mentally. In effect, this makes people to hardly disclose any mental health symptoms or seek help or treatment in view of the stigma caused by our attitudes”.

He therefore called for an attitudinal change, saying, “what need to change here is that Nigerians must do more to protect the rights of those with mental illness”.

Aliche argued that ” the level of awareness related to the origins and factors that a play a role in mental illness needs to change. Right now, there are very few opportunities that people must know about what causes mental illness, how to speak about mental illness and how to help people who suffer from mental illness” On this, he advocated that “It may mean expanding the curriculum for health education in our schools”.

Apparently disturbed by the high number of Nigerians suffering from mental health challenges as confirmed by World Health Organization (WHO), the president Nigerian Mental Health Practitioners, USA called on authorities in the country to work assiduously towards reducing the number one Nigerians with mental health challenges.

“The number of people who suffer from mental illness needs to be reduced. Right now, the WHO puts the number of people in Nigeria with one form of mental illness or the other at 40 million or 20% of our population. Only about 10% of people living with mental illness has access to care in Nigeria. This must change”, he noted.

He equally remarked other factors militating against having modern ways of fighting mental illness in the country to include, inadequate number of psychiatrists in Nigeria which he said is just 250 in a country of over 200 million people; the disparity against mental healthcare must be corrected as what is being considered is the physical (medical) challenges; mental ill health handlers – traditional and faith healers may have a place if they prove effective, but primary, secondary and tertiary institutions must be strengthened for such interventions; there are only eight federal neuropsychiatric hospitals in Nigeria, this is appalling and must be improved.

He also challenged the government to change the idea of mentally challenged people who now go around begging; just as he equally condemned the poor funding of mental healthcare delivery in Nigeria.

In a paper entitled “The path we chose”, the chairman, board of trustees, Nigeria American Institute for Mental Health (NAIMH), Mr Tunde Ipinmisho, FNGE, highlighted the issues that influenced and necessitated the group’s move to initiate as well as launch the Nigeria – American Institute for Mental Health.

In a remarkable and profound address, Ipinmisho observed that “We chose the path of intervention. In registering our NGO, we chose to include the word, institute, as a part of its name. It is a message that given the requisite resources, we will be more than a mental health agency. That we are going to be involved in education, training, research, advocacy and more.

“Our first order of business, and in line with commitment to integrating mental healthcare into the primary health system in Nigeria, we embark on training. We have designed a train – the – trainer program that will train non – psychiatrists to be able to conduct screens to identify mental health symptoms”.

He added, “We also plan to work government at various levels to train other cadres of mental health professionals, including social workers, psychologists, and professional counselors.

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“As a part of our research and training mission, we plan to affiliate with local universities, particularly, those in South East Nigeria, like Godfrey Okoye University, to develop programs of training and research in mental healthcare. Of course, manpower development is a major target of ours”.

The BoT boss concluded by hammering it home that “We are here to build partnerships and bridges among individuals, governments and corporations aimed at promoting mental healthcare”.

The vice chancellor, Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Prof Christian Aneke, who made his presentation in satire, commenced with the apparently searching but rhetorical question: ” are you okay”. He pointed out that Nigeria had never lacked ideas but rather had continuously suffered from the inability of leaders to implement such ideas designed by professionals.

He said, “Take it from me that about 100 million Nigerians are not mentally okay. By the way, how many Nigerians are mentally okay to cope with the stress of life in the country!

He enthused that the fact that most Nigerians were losing interest in virtually everything was an indication of things not being in proper shape in Nigeria.

According to him, “Have you observed that almost every Nigerian has lost interest in virtually everything in life? I mean we no longer have interest in our activities of life.

“For instance, many students now have no interest in their academic activities. Professionals complain about their job – saying it is hectic and non satisfying. Artisans will tell you they are tired of life just as the religious – priests, reverend sisters and clerics – are also hit with this virus”.

Aneke outlined habits that gave credence to his claim of Nigerians being bugged by mental health challenges. Defending his assertions, he stated that “The way and manner our actions are overlaoced with excessive anger and outburst – most times, for no genuine reason – will confirm this claim.

” Even, our culture of abuse clearly shows the rate of our poor mental healthcare delivery. What of excessive affluence particularly by politicians and our rich men at the expense of the poor in the society? These are a part of the problem. And we must talk about abuse of drugs by our youths”.

The VC accepted the idea of housing the Nigeria – American Institute for Mental Health on the university.

One of the the three female speakers, Chief Lolo Kate Uzoamaka Ezeofor, the leader of Umuada Igbo Nigeria and Diaspora, in her presentation, revealed that from the Garden of Edem where Cain out of anger, jealousy and bitterness killed his brother, the mental health structure of human beings has been questionable and irrational particularly in Nigeria.

She said the aspect of mental healthcare as it relates with one another must be given a top priority in order to avoid segregation.

The commissioner of health in Enugu State, Prof Emmanuel Obi, talked on how to improve on individual’s health condition, insisting that health matters should no longer be left in the hands of health workers.

“I can tell you that no matter your profession, all of are health workers in one form or the other. The way you treat your students may go a long way in defining what becomes of their mental health in the near future.

” We must also encourage the government to make mental healthcare services to all levels not just the top or tertiary but to the secondary and primary levels as well”, he urged.

There was a discourse on mental healthcare and the panelists included Dr Ngozi Okose, Rev Sis (Dr) C. C. Onyigbuo, Susan Agbor, Dinma Amadi and the moderator, Eze (Prof) Ekele Alphonsus Ngwadom.

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