Rise in Suicide Rate, Need for the National Assembly to Pass the Mental Health Bill

What is the government and other relevant bodies doing to stem the high suicide rate that have assumed a frightening dimension in recent time. In 2018 Nigeria was ranked as the 13th in Africa and 30th in the World with the highest suicide rate. With the present biting hunger, poverty and hopelessness ravaging the land, brought about by bad, inept and myopic leadership, only God knows what the current statistics will be.

The worst being that we are still operating under an archaic and obsolete mental law regime – the Lunacy Act of 1958 – a relic of colonialism, which is most unsuitable to meet the sophistication of contemporary mental health challenges. Pray, what stopped a country that got independence since 1960 from reviewing/amending this 61 years piece of legislation… your guess is as good as mine. Curiously, in 2013 and 2017, two attempts to pass the Mental Health Bill by the National Assembly met a brick wall.

The quick reintroduction of this bill and its passage into law will greatly assist in stemming the tide of high suicide rate and mental illness. The bill will amongst other things: eliminate stigmatisation of mental health patients, provide special care and support for them, put in measures that will encourage people to speak out on their mental challenges and medical helps provided, ensure appropriate therapy, provide for adequate funding of mental health care and encourage supporting NGO’s for sensitisation and advocacy against suicides.

Most importantly, the bill will mandate for constant updating of our Mental Health Policy which was last formulated in 1991 and abolishment of section 327 of the Criminal Code that criminalizes attempted suicide by imposing a one year sentence on conviction of the accused.

Above all, Government at all levels have failed in their onerous social responsibility of curbing poverty, the main trigger of suicide, in the country. It is high time the citizens rise up and demand for good governance, accountability and responsibility from their self-centered leaders. Without this, nothing will change.

Our churches, mosques, non governmental organizations, corporate bodies and other bodies should do more in providing assistance, welfare and support to mental health patients.

In all, persons that suffer from depression and other mental health challenges require our empathy and urgent medical attention, not scorn.

Obioma Ezenwobodo

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