We spoke with Dr. Iyewande Dipeolu-Dada, a medical doctor and psychotherapist, about “The State of Mental Health in Nigeria: A Psychotherapist’s View” in the most recent episode of our Mental Health Awareness series.
Is it possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle while suffering from mental illness?
It is entirely possible to live a healthy life while suffering from a mental disorder, just as it is to live a healthy life while suffering from chronic physical illnesses such as Sickle-cell disease, Diabetes, or Hypertension. Many people suffer from mental disorders and struggle on a regular basis, but we don’t see it because they have adapted in the same way as people with physical illnesses do.
Do you believe that the access to better mental health services can improve Nigeria’s mental health issues?
The mental health care access will not fix all of Nigeria’s mental health issues, but it will strengthen people’s lives by reducing unhealthy coping strategies, the risk of drug abuse, self-harm and suicide, family conflict, mental health problems, and the deterioration of already existing mental and physical health problems.
What are your views on the state of Nigeria’s mental health facilities?
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institutions are not left out with problems like poor maintenance of structures, understaffing, poor funding, use of outdated/defunct equipment.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 will the Nigerian government do to promote mental health?
Nigeria’s government has a long way to go in terms of promoting mental health services. First and foremost, political will is critical, given that we continue to enforce the lunacy act and have a defunct mental health program that has not been checked since 1991.
They must begin developing, implementing, and adopting mental health policies that address mental and neurological conditions, appropriate mental health services, disabilities caused by these disorders, and discrimination.
They could also raise support for mental health services, finance research, and staff these facilities with more mental health practitioners. It is also important to provide mental health education in schools for students of all ages
What steps do you think should be adopted to end the culture of silence and stigma?
There are many steps that can be done to help minimize the stigma and silence that exists in our society. Some of them are: discussing about mental health without guilt or discrimination with your colleagues, friends and family; seeing people dealing with mental disorders as people rather than their illness; showing empathy to those around you (you never know who is struggling); and learning more about mental health and illnesses.
When you see symptoms of a mental illness, speak out and encourage others to do the same, as this helps others to seek treatment and ensures that everyone receives the help they need.
How effective are mental disorder remedies? Is full recovery possible and do they really work?
Mental disorder treatment is very effective, and it is constantly being studied and developed. Recovery of mental health does not necessarily imply the same full recovery as we expect for physical health issues.
Personal recovery is unique to each person and involves working toward a goal that is meaningful to you while still maintaining optimism for the future. You may still have some symptoms after you’ve recovered, but you’ll be better prepared to deal with them.
Have you ever felt threatened while dealing with people who suffer from mental illnesses?
Unlike what movies and the media would have us believe, most people with mental disorders are non-threatening and non-violent when they’re stabilized. In any case, it’s always better to follow universal safety guidelines when meeting someone for the first time and trying to determine their emotional state in an emergency, particularly if you don’t know how bad they are.
What can individuals do to contribute to a healthier mental health system in Nigeria?
Individuals can help by educating themselves about mental wellbeing and, in turn, educating others, as I discussed earlier. Less ignorance leads to less stigma. They must also be aware of the prevalence of mental health issues, as well as the most common symptoms.
We must also assist those who are in need and advocate for mental wellbeing and MH education. Also, don’t be afraid to talk about your mental illness because you never know who your story will motivate to seek support and pay attention to their mental health. Take note of your own mental wellbeing (be aware of your own normal) and avoid making mental health jokes, as this reduces the problems of others.
What advice would you give to young people who are scared to speak up about mental illness?
It can be very frightening to decide to tell someone about your problems because you never know how they would respond, and no one wants to be criticized over something they have no control over. Opening up to somebody you trust or a qualified therapist can be really beneficial because you know they won’t judge you, it’s a totally private experience, and you’ll be able to share your issue.
What role do you believe the private sector should play in improving Nigeria’s mental health?
The private sector is a huge employer of labor and can benefit by developing policies around mental wellbeing, mental health leave, workplace bullying and abuse, and providing in-house counseling for employees. They should also provide mental health resources (such as access to therapy and psychiatrists) in their health plans, as well as annual health tests.
They will also help to fund mental health research and collaborate with the government by adopting and maintaining community mental health facilities. Since holding quarterly workplace mental health seminars is not the only way to develop the mental health space in Nigeria, they should donate to mental health charities as part of their CSR.