By Lilian U. Okoro
Some mental health practitioners have commended the Federal Government for signing the Mental Health Bill into law.
They made their views known in interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Lagos.
The experts also described the president’s action as ” a good thing that has happened to the mental health subsector”.
They said that the new development was appropriate and would pave the way for protection, growth and development of mental health delivery system of the country.
NAN reports that President Muhammadu Buhari finally signed into law the Mental Health Bill harmonised by both Houses of Assembly in 2021.
The signing which seems to be one of the parting gifts to Nigerians from the president is also the first Mental Health Act/Law post Independence and will also replace the Lunacy Act of 1958.
It will be recalled that in 2019, the mental health legislation was advanced, with the Senate passing it for a second reading and holding public hearings in 2020.
On Nov. 28, 2022, the National Assembly passed the National Mental Health Bill, 2021 and forwarded it to President Buhari for consideration and assent last week, according to a memorandum by the Clerk to the National Assembly.
A consultant Neuropsychiatrist, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, described the development as the right way to go, adding that Nigeria’s mental health delivery system now have a modern law protecting it.
Kadiri, also the Medical Director, Pinnacle Medical Services Ltd., expressed gratitude to God and all the stakeholders whose efforts and advocacies contributed to the victory.
”For me, the signing of mental health bill was a great move after 65 years of using the Lunacy Act of 1958; which was not only outdated, but also inhumane.
”The beauty about it is that, it is now a law and it covers a lot of objectives which includes; ensuring availability of mental health services at primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions across the country.
”It also ensures human rights protections for those with mental health conditions, improving care by guaranteeing those receiving treatments have the right to participate in formulating their medical plans and eliminating forced treatment, seclusion, and other methods of restraint in facilities among other benefits.
”So, we are now part of the global space with best global practice,” she said.
Similarly, Mrs. Veronica Ezeh, the President, Adicare Rehabilitation Home, an NGO, expressed joy that with the Mental Health Law, all forms of discrimination and stigmatisation against people with mental health conditions would be reduced or totally eliminated.
Ezeh, also a psychiatric nurse with the Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital Yaba, decried the way and manner in which people with mental health conditions were being treated in the society before now.
According to her, people with mental health challenges have suffered a lot of dejection, denials, stigmatisation and discrimination, which were not helpful to management and recovery from their conditions.
She added that a lot of them were denied access to mental health services and were rather chained and locked up or taken to prayer houses were their conditions were allowed to be more complicated.
”With the mental health law, psychiatric patients now have rights and mouth to speak out and ask for their right in case anyone encroaches on it.
”Similarly, the standard of mental health services will be spelt out and there will be equity in the treatment of mental health patients.
”I think, signing of the Mental Health Bill into law, is a good thing that have happened to mental health subsector,” she said.
Speaking, the Vice-President, Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria (APN), Dr Veronica Nyamali, described the new National Mental Health Law as ” a right step in the right direction” because it would fine-tune operations of psychiatric services in Nigeria to the global best practices.
According to her, it is now left for all psychiatric institutions, the practitioners the society and everybody to adjust and align with the provisions of the law.
“The new National Mental Health Law will fine-tune psychiatric practice of the country to the global best practices; which means all the old ways of things have passed away.
”Everybody need to align with the provisions of the law and anyone caught still applying the old methods, is either committing a crime or disobeying the law.
”Though, being a new law, people need time to get used to it – the new system,” Nyamali said. (NAN)