Only 10% of people with mental illness get care –Psychiatrist

Angela Onwuzoo

A Consultant Psychiatrist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Olayinka Atilola, says only 10 percent of people in need of mental health services have access, even as the burden of mental illness increases due to the impact of COVID-19.

Experts warn that mental disorders may be another major health challenge the country will have to contend with after COVID-19 if something is not done to halt the rate at which people are abusing alcohol, especially the local brew called ogogoro.

According to psychiatrists, there has been a spike in mental health disorders in the country in the last couple of months, as those engaged in high alcohol intake, with the erroneous belief that it will protect them against the viral infection, are coming down with mental health problems.

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, Atilola affirms that access to mental health services in Nigeria is very poor and that a lot of people with mental health problems are not getting the services that they need.

The psychiatrist said, “There is a research that shows that only about 10 percent of people that need mental health services are able to access it in Nigeria.

“Already, there are pre-existing gaps when accessing mental health services in the country before the increase in mental illness by the impact of COVID-19.

“Government needs to work harder on improving access to mental health services in Nigeria.”

He noted that one of the recommended ways of doing that is to properly integrate mental health services into primary healthcare services. That is where people go.

“People go to general hospitals and primary healthcare centres to access health services for their physical health problems. But when they have mental health issues, it will go unrecognised and when it is recognised, there are no manpower to address the issue. “

Medical Director of Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Oluwayemi Ogun, had, last August, told PUNCH HealthWise that they have been seeing more patients with mental illness since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Ogun had said that psychiatrists are worried about the increase and are projecting that the country will witness an increase in mental illness post-COVID-19.

Already, before the outbreak of the pandemic, reports showed that about 20 to 30 per cent of Nigeria’s population suffered from mental disorders, which many mental health experts believed was too high.

Atilola, therefore, called on the government to do the needful by addressing the gaps in patients’ accessing services when they need them.

“Integration of mental health services into some of the primary healthcare centres will ensure that mental health problems are easily recognised among patients. With this approach, we will reduce the gaps in mental health services in the country”, he noted.

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