Annals of Nigerian Medicine

: 2016  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 47--48

Mental health disorders in Nigeria: A highly neglected disease

Dauda Eneyamire Suleiman 
 Department of Pathology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
Dauda Eneyamire Suleiman
Department of Pathology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Kaduna State

How to cite this article:
Suleiman DE. Mental health disorders in Nigeria: A highly neglected disease.Ann Nigerian Med 2016;10:47-48

How to cite this URL:
Suleiman DE. Mental health disorders in Nigeria: A highly neglected disease. Ann Nigerian Med [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 21 ];10:47-48
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Mental health disorders are not uncommon, and the global burden of mental health disorders is projected to reach 15% by the year 2020. By this time, it is estimated that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse-related disorders, will disable more people than complications arising from AIDS, heart disease, accidents, and wars combined![1] This is an astonishing statistic and poses serious questions as to why mental health disorders are not given much more attention that it currently receives.

In Nigeria, an estimated 20%–30% of our population are believed to suffer from mental disorders.[2] This is a very significant number considering Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million. Unfortunately, the attention given to mental health disorders in Nigeria is at best, fleeting; the level of awareness of the Nigerian public on mental health issues is also understandably poor, and the misconceptions regarding mental health have continued to flourish.

The 2006 WHO-AIMS report on mental health system in Nigeria made some telling revelations. It reports that “there is considerable neglect of mental health issues in the country. The existing Mental Health Policy document in Nigeria was formulated in 1991. Since its formulation, no revision has taken place and no formal assessment of how much it has been implemented has been conducted……No desk exists in the ministries at any level for mental health issues and only four per cent of government expenditures on health is earmarked for mental health.”[3] It also unearthed other issues related to mental health. These include unavailability of essential medicines at health centers, unavailability of physicians to run primary health care centers and the lack or restrictions to the prescription of psychotropic medications. It also identified that there are only a few nongovernmental organizations involved in individual assistance activities such as counseling, housing, or support groups.

It concluded that “in general terms, several countries in Africa are better resourced in regard to mental health personnel. Countries such as South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya have more psychiatrists per 100,000 persons and also have higher proportions of psychiatric beds. Also, many countries in Africa also give better official attention to mental health issues.”[3]

The above statistics are damning and in the light of the recent suicidal episodes recorded in parts of Lagos (which are obviously a tip of the iceberg), it forces a rethink in our general attitudes to mental health and questions our current maintenance of the status quo.

Considering the current economic recession in the country, it is pertinent to also look at the economic burden of mental health disorders. In the U.S., it is estimated that about 79 billion dollars represent the indirect costs associated with these disorders; of these, 63 billion dollars reflects the loss of productivity due to illness. In Canada, the economic burden of mental illness in 2003 was estimated to be about $34 billion ($1056 per capita), with depression and schizophrenia accounting for about $5 billion and $2.7 billion annually, respectively.[1] The WHO in 2005 estimated that mental health conditions cost between 3% and 4% of the gross national product in European Union member countries.[1]

As far as policy issues are concerned, there is at least some evidence that there is currently some change going on in the country. The new National Health Policy (2016) notes the increasing numbers of persons with mental health issues and the need to address mental health. Furthermore, a policy for mental health services delivery was developed in 2013 even though several key provisions of the policy, including establishing a body at the Federal Ministry of Health to be focused on mental health, are yet to be implemented.

It is in light of this that it is heartwarming that the theme of this year's World Health Day commemoration in Nigeria is “Depression: Let's talk.” On the commemoration of this day, the president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) proclaimed that the NMA will work closely with the National Assembly to pass a comprehensive bill on mental health in Nigeria as part of its corporate responsibility to mental health community and the society at large. He further stated that “in commemoration of this day, let us ponder on the rights of people who labor under illness by treating them with respect and dignity. A national strategy to address mental health problems in Nigeria by the government at all levels is needed, one which should lay emphasis on prevention.”[4]

It is our sincere hope that these pronouncements are backed up with the required action so that the country develops and implements both a policy and legal framework to addressing mental health issues. It has become pertinent that mental health is part and parcel of primary health care and not merely an afterthought added to other health issues which are viewed as more important. Charles and Van Weel observed that “For too long, mental disorders have been largely overlooked as part of strengthening primary care. This is despite the fact that mental disorders are found in all countries, in women and men, at all stages of life, among the rich and poor, and in both rural and urban settings. It is also despite the fact that integrating mental health into primary care facilitates person-centred and holistic services, and as such, is central to the values and principles of the Alma Ata Declaration.”[1],[5]

In addition, it is necessary to undertake the widespread education of the Nigerian public on the recognition of mental health disorders as a disease and the need for societal and family support and the avoidance of stigmatization of people suffering from mental health disorders.


1Ngui EM, Khasakhala L, Ndetei D, Roberts LW. Mental disorders, health inequalities and ethics: A global perspective. Int Rev Psychiatry 2010;22:235-44.
2Onyemelukwe C. Stigma and mental health in Nigeria: Some suggestions for law reform. J Law Policy Glob 2016;55:63-8.
3Ministry of Health, WHO. WHO-AIMS Report on Mental Health System in Nigeria. Ibadan, Nigeria: Ministry of Health and WHO; 2006.
4Vanguard News. World Health Day: NMA Collaborates with NASS on Passage of Mental Health Bill. Vanguard News; 2017. Available from: [Last cited on 2017 May 08].
5WHO/WONCA. Integrating Mental Health into Primary Care: A Global Perspective. Geneva: World Health Organization and World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA); 2008.