Govt yet to establish mental health dept months after presidential assent

Sixteen months after the Mental Health Bill was enacted, the Federal Government has yet to create a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health, according to findings from SATURDAY PUNCH have shown.

On January 5, 2023, former President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Mental Health Bill, 2021, which replaces the obsolete Lunacy Act of 1958.

The National Mental Health Act 2021 allows for the establishment of a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health, to propose national health policies and facilitate their approval and implementation.

It also allows supporting the advancement of mental health, providing health care services and ensuring humane care and rehabilitation in the most permissive environment; and promote culturally appropriate, affordable and accessible mental health care.

Experts say that without the establishment of the department, Nigeria is still operating under the Lunacy Law as the objective of the Mental Health Act 2021 can only be achieved through effective implementation.

Confirming the findings, the President of the Nigerian Association of Psychiatrists, Prof. Taiwo Obindo, said the Ministry of Health was aiming to establish the department, adding that nothing had been done.

Obindo also said the government had not yet established the National Mental Health Fund.

“Although the program outlined a roadmap, nothing concrete had been done. The National Review Committee is intended to look after those who wish to establish mental health facilities.

“They are intended to accredit and reaccredit them; They are intended to ensure that already established facilities meet minimum requirements before they are allowed to operate.

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“For every facility that is going to be established, there are requirements. So if the department is not established, we will continue to have all these charlatans occupying the space, offering mental health services and then affecting the rights of people who have mental health problems.

“This is intended for the establishment of the National Mental Health Fund, and is intended to assist in all of these activities. We know that by 2024 we may not have an allocation because it was not done before. But then there will be opportunities for philanthropists, corporate organizations and individuals to dive into it,” he noted.

He stated that without the establishment of the department and the allocation of funds for mental health, the rights of people with mental health problems will continue to be infringed.

“It’s like we’re still applying the Law of Insanity. The Department of Mental Health Services should be an autonomous department with a budget line, not a unit or program dependent on another department.

“Some countries even have a Ministry of Mental Health; They are countries that understand the importance and impact of mental health in the life of each citizen. We need the government to do what is necessary,” she said.

Also, a consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Dr. Olugbenga Owoeye, said the establishment of the department will help in the implementation of the law.

Owoeye said: “We are asking the department to allow us to operate the law but the Federal Ministry of Health is doing everything possible now to establish the department. They have a unit for the mental health program which is a precursor to the establishment of the mental health department.

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“I am hopeful that the department will be ready this year for the country to operate the law so that people can benefit from it. The ministry is working day and night to get it up and running and ensure the department is established.

Contacted over the phone, the National Coordinator of the National Mental Health Program of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Tunde Ojo, requested that a text message be sent to him on the matter.

He is yet to respond to the text message sent to him at the time of filing this report.

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