Bill to protect persons with mental health scales second reading in Nigerian Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed for second reading a bill to protect persons with mental health and substance abuse problems.

The bill is titled “A Bill for an Act to Protect Persons with Mental Health Needs and Establishment of National Commission for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for Effective Management of Mental Health in Nigeria and for other Related Matters, 2019.”

The passage was sequel to a presentation of the bill by the sponsor, Ahmadu Abubakar (APC, Adamawa State), at plenary.

The bill which was first presented on the floor of the Senate on January 23, seeks to provide direction for a coherent response to mental health and substance abuse victims.

Presenting the report, Mr Abubakar said it would protect the rights and freedom of persons with mental health and substance abuse problems as well as ensure a better quality of life and better service delivery. It also seeks to provide a framework for legalisation to take care of issues around mental health.

He said the records show mental health problems account for a sixth of health burden worldwide.

“Many of those diagnosed do not get treatment. They are often shackled and beaten. 2006 World Health Organisation assessment for Nigeria shows that there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The existing mental health policy document was promulgated in 1991.

“Since its formulation, no implementation has taken place, no formal assessment on the spread, no test in the ministries for mental health issues. Psychiatric hospitals and community health centers based on mental health have no extant laws backing them.

“Several countries in Africa are better resourced in regards to mental health. Countries such as South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya have more Psychiatrists of about 100,000 persons. They have better attention for mental health issues,” he said.

The lawmaker said the bill will promote collaboration among agencies for the implementation of policies for mental health and substance abuse as well as provide technical supervision and ensure general compliance.

He also said the bill seeks to review policies and guidelines on mental health and substance issues with consultations with relevant stakeholders as “there is no modern legislation backing this cause except the obsolete law.”

In his remark, Shehu Sani described the bill as an intervention on the state of mental health in Nigeria today.

He said the bill and its message is about setting up a commission that will regulate the activities of mental services and institutions.

“Many of our cities today, we see young and old men running around the street constituting a public nuisance because the government has not come out with a policy to stop such kinds of persons and reintegrate them in the society.

“I happened to be, in the years of my struggle in the prison, where people with mental health care are being categorised as criminals. They have been discriminated by their families and placed on life imprisonment. This bill will give them some hope and a second chance in life,” he said.

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said every person living in Nigeria whether mentally ill or otherwise must be the responsibility of government.

“I think that this will make the government to be caring of those unfortunate enough to have mental issues.”

The bill was thereafter, passed for second reading and referred to the Senate Committee on Health for further legislative work, to report back in two weeks.

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