As we commemorate the World Mental Health Day, October 10, with the theme of ‘Mental
Health as a Universal Human Right’, we cannot but reflect on the sad situation of human rights
violations of persons with mental illness and their families. It is still very common to hear of
children withdrawn from school, spouses divorced and sent packing, young adults whose
education are halted and their lives derailed, adults dismissed from work, females sexually
assaulted, people chained and beaten or deprived of food and water….all purportedly on
account of mental illness. These are terrible circumstances that must be stopped.
Furthermore, every major city or town have several homeless, mentally ill persons roaming the
streets – sometimes naked, and everyone just ignores them as we go about our daily business.
Until something happens that generates attention, and the Government sweeps in to clear
them off the streets. What is usually missing unfortunately, is a follow up plan for long term
treatment and rehabilitation of the affected persons.
The reality in most instances, is that a combination of factors culminates in mentally ill persons
ending up on the streets as homeless persons. In our environment here, the most prominent is
ignorance about the causes of mental illness and the fact that they are treatable in hospitals. In
many of such cases, the hospital is never under consideration as a viable treatment option.
Other equally critical factors include poverty and the impoverishment that accompanies mental
illness in a family.
Linked to ignorance is also the superstitious beliefs that we all harbor about the spiritual, rather
than medical nature of mental illnesses. ‘Maybe he did a money ritual which backfired, why
should I get involved?’. Or ‘maybe he is paying for his previous bad deeds’; or ‘someone cast a
spell/curse on him’. So, we rationalize simply going on our way.
Challenges Across The Country
Across the country, in almost every state, citizens are abandoned to roam the streets on
account of mental illness. Some states periodically pick them off the streets for rehabilitation,
but these are usually not very well thought through and comprehensive in approach. They are
usually ad-hoc and short-term with no sustained follow-up and rehabilitation program for the
long haul. Thus, such efforts are doomed to failure and are forgotten within a few years – if
they last that long. This trend is worrisome, and we have to do much better.
The approach should be in three phases. Phase 1 should involve pick up and assessment in a
health facility where they can receive comprehensive medical as well as mental health
assessment. Phase 2 should include a period of appropriate in-patient care to adequately tackle identified physical or mental health problems. And lastly, Phase 3 should involve long term
rehabilitation and on-going support to assist them in establishing productive lives.
Project Hope of the Asido Foundation
It is gratifying that the Asido Foundation is carrying out a pilot project, termed Project Hope
that aims to faithfully implement the three phases as a model demonstration project that this
can be achieved. It is partnering with the Oyo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social
Inclusion, the Ministry of Health and other relevant Stakeholders for this cause. We hope this
will kickstart other efforts and coalesce to ensure that we restore hope to these people and
The situation of homeless mentally ill persons (present to varying degrees all over the world) is
often a reflection of the extent to which our society cares for her most vulnerable citizens. It is
simply a lack of responsiveness from all stakeholders in society, that citizens roam the streets
because they suffer from mental illness. Especially when effective treatment is available and
Questions for us all to ponder: If I develop a mental illness, what will become of me? Where will
my family take me to? The aim of Project Hope, with the support of Governments – starting
with the Oyo State Government, is that no citizen should be abandoned to the streets on
account of mental ill-health. We can do this, and we have no option really, but to take action.
Every citizen deserves to have access to quality mental as well as physical health care, in line
with the 3 rd sustainable development goal (health and wellbeing for all).
We need all stakeholders to support Project Hope of the Asido Foundation, and every state
government across the country to rise up to the occasion and do the needful. The days of
simply looking away from the problem and wishing it away are long gone. Now is the time for
evidence-based action. Are we ready, or are we going to demonstrate that we are the truly sick
ones as a society that simply does not care? Time will tell.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 12th October 2023