The World Health Organization defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, MENTAL, and social
wellbeing’. Thus, health can be conceptualized as a stool sitting on 3 legs: physical leg, mental leg
and social leg. Nationhood is built around citizens…. healthy citizens.
The most important resource for any organization or nation is her human resource – the people. It
should therefore be a no-brainer that any organization or nation that desires to be successful and
productive will invest in her human resources. They will ensure that they are equipped and provided
the best tools to enhance the chances of success. The most basic of these investments will be to
ensure that your staff or citizens are healthy and fit for purpose. Physically healthy, socially healthy
and MENTALLY healthy.
Current Mental Health Challenges
We are failing woefully across the spectrum of public health for our citizens: from promotion to
prevention to early identification and treatment and lastly, rehabilitation. This is especially true for
mental and social wellbeing and only slightly better in physical health.
We have come a long way to finally signing the Mental Health Act into law in January of 2023, after
previously labouring under the ancient Lunacy Law of 1958, originally derived from the ordinance
law of 1906. Thankfully we now have a law that is in tandem with global best practices and protects
the fundamental human rights of persons with mental disorders. What remains to be seen is
effective domestication across states and successful implementation. It is not yet uhuru.
Closely related to the foregoing is the continued criminalization of attempted suicide in both the
penal and criminal codes of the country. Yet, the evidence globally clearly indicates that attempted
suicide commonly occurs in the context of mental illness – especially depression. Thus, it should be
rightly seen as a cry for help, and what they need is treatment and social support; and not arrest or
prosecution. We need the state houses of assembly to urgently repeal such laws and decriminalize
attempted suicide. We are also witnessing a steady rise in suicidal rates especially among youth as
well as middle-aged citizens. Yet these are avoidable and tragic loss of precious human lives. We
need to be more proactive about suicide prevention.
Drug abuse continues to rise to near epidemic proportions with almost every family having someone
grappling with one addiction or the other. Our youth are swayed to imagine it is fun and cool to take
substances of abuse, and to downplay the negative consequences. And the illicit drug supply
networks are seemingly ubiquitous across the country. Some of the consequences include a spike in
crime rates as well as addiction treatment wards that are bursting at the seams with no available
beds for the huge numbers battling addiction.
Ignorance, shame and stigma associated with mental illness remains rife against affected persons
and their families. Thus, many suffer in silence, are kept locked away by their families, or abandoned
to roam the streets on account of mental illness. This is simply unacceptable and should not
continue. The work of promoting mental health awareness and combating shame and stigma that is
undertaken by organizations such as the Asido Foundation is the way to go. And indeed, all hands
need to be on deck to achieve any meaningful progress as a society. The clergy, media, community
leaders, you and I, everyone needs to get involved. Please visit
www.asidofoundation.com/unashamed to support the #unashamed campaign of the Asido
Criminal Neglect of Mental Health: Despite the numerous challenges highlighted above, it is a shame
that mental health remains neglected by government at federal and state levels. The revised mental
health policy of 2013 still does not have an accompanying mental health plan to guide
implementation – 10 years afterwards. A further revision is underway at the moment and the hope
is that it will suffer a better fate than her previous versions which simply gathered dust but were
hardly ever implemented. There is a Program Officer for Mental Health at the Federal Level now,
who needs to be empowered and supported, but a mere 5 out of 36 states have Desk Officers for
As we celebrate 63 years of nationhood, we have many challenges, but they are all surmountable.
We only require a conscious and strategic campaign to change minds and attitudes for the better,
via societal re-engineering. Nation building can never be accidental. It must be deliberate and
calculated, with a focus on investments in a healthy populace. And optimal mental health should
necessarily be a core consideration. All hands need to be on deck, with the onset of a new
administration that we hope will do much better for all citizens. A good starting point is to pay
attention to promoting a healthy population that is not just physically healthy but also mentally
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 5th October 2023