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Open Letter to health Minister on Nigeria’s mental health crisis

By Halima Layeni, Dear Honorable Minister for Health, I pen this letter to you with a heavy heart, but also with a fervent hope for…

By Halima Layeni,

Dear Honorable Minister for Health,

I pen this letter to you with a heavy heart, but also with a fervent hope for change. As the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, you shoulder the immense responsibility of safeguarding the well-being of every Nigerian. Yet, amidst the myriad challenges we face as a nation, one issue stands out as a glaring indictment of our collective failure: the state of mental health care in Nigeria.

In a country of over 200 million people, we have fewer than 150 psychiatrists. Let that sobering fact sink in. Less than 150 specialists are tasked with addressing the mental health needs of a population grappling with the stresses of modern life, compounded by poverty, conflict, and inequality.

According to the WHO, less than 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need. This is not just a statistic; it is a damning indictment of our collective failure to prioritize mental health as a fundamental aspect of overall well-being.

To put this into perspective, let us compare our situation to that of other nations: In the United States, there are approximately 28,000 psychiatrists serving a population of 330 million people. In the United Kingdom, there are 12,300 psychiatrists for a population of 68 million. The disparity is stark, and it is unacceptable.

Numbers alone do not tell the full story. We must also confront the systemic issues that have hampered our efforts to provide adequate mental health care.

First and foremost, we must address the chronic underfunding of mental health services. Year after year, mental health budgets languish at the bottom of the priority list, starved of the resources they need to function effectively. This must change. We cannot hope to build a healthy, prosperous society without investing in the mental well-being of our citizens.

Equally pressing is the issue of inadequate facilities and infrastructure. Too often, those in need of mental health care are forced to travel long distances to access overstretched hospitals and clinics, only to find that essential medications and treatments are in short supply. We must invest in the expansion and modernization of our mental health infrastructure, ensuring that care is accessible to all who need it.

But perhaps most damning of all is the failure to implement existing laws and policies designed to protect the rights of individuals with mental health conditions. Our National Mental Health Policy, enacted in 2013, lays out a comprehensive framework for promoting mental health and ensuring access to quality care. Yet, too often, these lofty aspirations remain unrealized.

We cannot ignore the issue of men’s mental health. Traditional gender norms dictate that men should be stoic and strong, leading many to suffer in silence rather than seek help for their mental health issues. We must work to dismantle these harmful stereotypes and create a culture where men feel comfortable seeking support when they need it most.

As Minister for Health and social welfare, you have the power to effect change. You have the opportunity to reshape our nation’s approach to mental health care, to tear down the barriers that have long stood in the way of progress. But you cannot do it alone.

I call upon you to marshal the resources of your ministry, to rally support from across the government and civil society, and to lead by example in the fight for mental health equity. Together, we can build a future where every Nigerian has access to the care and support they need to thrive—a future where mental health is not just an afterthought, but a fundamental pillar of our national identity.

The time for action is now. The stakes could not be higher. Let us rise to the challenge, and in doing so, create a brighter, healthier future for all Nigerians.

Halima Layeni is Founder & Executive Director, Life After Abuse Foundation

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