Mental Health in Nigeria: A Comprehensive Overview (2023)

Mental health refers to a person’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being, and it is an important component of overall health and well-being. 

In Nigeria, mental health has historically been overlooked and there are many challenges facing the mental health system. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of mental health in Nigeria, including its historical context, current challenges, and opportunities.

History of mental health in Nigeria

The history of mental health in Nigeria dates back to ancient times when traditional healing practices and spiritual beliefs were the primary approaches to mental illness. 

Simultaneously, Nigeria has a history of neglecting mental health, with little attention given to the issue and few resources allocated to mental health services. 

The low priority given to mental health has led to a shortage of mental health professionals and a lack of adequate facilities for treatment.

Cultural and religious beliefs can create a stigma around mental illness, making it difficult for individuals to seek help.

Western influence introduced psychiatric hospitals and institutions during colonial rule, with limited resources allocated to mental health services.

The Lunacy Ordinance was established in the colonial era in the year 1916 and it was proceeded by the Lunacy Act of 1958.

The essence of this mental health legislation was to adequately equip the Nigerian community with the necessary support in tackling mental illnesses by efficient delivery of mental healthcare services, implementing national minimum standards for mental health services, etc.

But the Lunacy Act failed to carry out its objectives.

The government made further efforts to address mental health, including passing the Mental Health Bill 2021 into law, which provides a legal framework for the promotion and protection of mental health. 

The Mental Health Bill was first presented to the National Assembly in 2003 but it was withdrawn in April 2019.

Again the bill was presented in 2013 but it was not signed into law.

On February 19, 2020, the Nigerian Senate held a public hearing for the bill then it was signed in 2021.

In addition, there are organizations and individuals working to raise awareness about mental health and reduce stigma.

Statistics or survey of mental health in Nigeria 

  • Mental health in Nigeria receives a mere 3.3% of the government’s health budget, with the majority (90%) of the allocated funds directed towards mental health hospitals. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the budget is dedicated to mental health awareness and the provision of mental health services in the country.
  • Access to mental healthcare is available to less than 10 percent of individuals grappling with mental illness in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the provision of mental health services is predominantly concentrated in urban areas, leaving those in rural regions without sufficient resources for psychiatric care.
  • Depression is a significant mental health issue affecting a substantial number of Nigerians. It is estimated that around seven million individuals in Nigeria currently experience depression.
  • In Nigeria, a country with a population of around 181 million, over 60 million people, or approximately 30 percent of the population, are believed to be affected by mental illnesses says Taiwo Obindo, President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria.
  • A survey revealed that Nigeria was ranked as the country with the highest prevalence of depression in Africa.
  • Nigeria ranks 15th in the world for the frequency of suicide.
  • There are less than 150 psychiatrists in the country of 200 million people.

Facts about mental health in Nigeria

The facts are the same as the statistics. But for simplicity, we labeled what the statistics are saying concerning mental health in Nigeria.

  • Stigma and Discrimination: Mental illness is often stigmatized in Nigerian society, leading to social isolation and hindering individuals from seeking help. 
  • Limited Resources: Nigeria faces challenges in terms of funding and infrastructure for mental health services, resulting in a scarcity of mental health professionals and treatment centers. 
  • Cultural Factors: Traditional beliefs and superstitions influence perceptions of mental health, leading to a preference for spiritual or religious interventions over professional medical care.
  • Gender Disparities: Women are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues due to factors such as domestic violence, gender inequality, and cultural expectations.

Nigerian views on mental illness

The perception of mental illness in Nigeria is complex. 

While some Nigerians understand and acknowledge mental health problems, there is still a prevailing belief that mental illness is a consequence of supernatural or spiritual forces. 

Some attribute mental health problems to witchcraft or spiritual attacks. As a result, seeking spiritual interventions, such as prayers, exorcisms, or traditional healers, is often favored.

This view often leads to a delay in seeking appropriate medical intervention and contributes to the perpetuation of stigma.

Many Nigerians may not recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, leading to misinterpretation or denial of these issues. This lack of awareness also hinders early intervention and appropriate treatment.

Cultural expectations of strength and resilience can further discourage men from seeking help for their mental health struggles.

Causes of mental health in Nigeria

Several factors contribute to the high prevalence of mental health disorders in Nigeria, including 

  • Socio-economic disparities
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Political instability
  • Inadequate healthcare infrastructure
  • Exposure to violence and trauma
  • Substance abuse
  • Genetic and biological factors
  • Lack of awareness and education
  • Domestic violence

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic repercussions have further exacerbated mental health challenges. 

These factors can make it difficult for individuals to access mental health services and can contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

Addressing these causes requires a comprehensive approach that includes promoting mental health awareness, improving access to mental health services, addressing socioeconomic disparities, and combating stigma and discrimination.

Barriers/Challenges to mental health in Nigeria

  • Limited Resources and Infrastructure: Insufficient funding, a shortage of mental health professionals, and a lack of well-equipped facilities pose significant challenges to mental healthcare delivery. 
  • Inadequate Policy and Legislation: The absence of comprehensive mental health policies and legislation hinders the development and implementation of effective interventions. 
  • Lack of Awareness and Education: There is a need for increased public awareness campaigns to educate the population about mental health, reduce stigma, and promote early intervention.
  • Integration of Traditional Healing Practices: Balancing traditional healing practices with evidence-based approaches to mental health care remains a challenge, as cultural beliefs often clash with modern medical practices.
  • Inadequate Funding: Insufficient allocation of funds for mental health services hampers the development and improvement of mental health infrastructure and programs.
  • Low Mental Health Literacy: A lack of awareness and understanding of mental health among the general population contributes to misconceptions, misinformation, and delayed intervention. 
  • Fragmented Healthcare System: The absence of an integrated and coordinated healthcare system makes it challenging to provide comprehensive mental health care across different regions of Nigeria.
  • Rural-Urban Disparity: Rural areas often face limited access to mental health services, exacerbating disparities in care between urban and rural populations.

Changing Concept of mental health in Nigeria

There is a gradual shift in Nigeria’s understanding of mental health, with increased recognition of the importance of addressing mental health issues as a crucial component of overall well-being. 

Efforts are being made to promote a biopsychosocial approach that combines traditional healing practices with evidence-based interventions, taking into account cultural and social contexts.

Mainstreaming mental health in Nigeria barriers and opportunities

  • While Nigeria faces significant challenges in mainstreaming mental health, there are also opportunities for progress.
  • Developing comprehensive mental health policies, legislation, and frameworks can provide a strong foundation for addressing the barriers and improving mental health services. 
  • Investing in mental health infrastructure, including the establishment of mental health facilities, training centers, and helplines, can improve access to care. 
  • Expanding the number of trained mental health professionals through education and recruitment efforts can help bridge the treatment gap. 
  • Integrating mental health services into primary healthcare settings can improve early detection, intervention, and overall treatment outcomes. 
  • Promoting community mental health initiatives, such as training community health workers and engaging community leaders, can enhance mental health literacy and reduce stigma at the grassroots level.
  • Implementing robust awareness campaigns to educate the public about mental health, challenge stereotypes, and encourage help-seeking behavior can contribute to a more supportive environment.

What Next?

Mental health in Nigeria would soon become mainstream seeing that organizations are creating massive awareness through programs and workshops.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2023 by Our Editorial Team