A Neuropsychiatrist, Prof. Monday Igwe, has described the signing of the Mental Health Bill into Law by President Muhammadu Buhari as a “major leap in the administration of mental healthcare service delivery in Nigeria.”
Mr Igwe, who is also the Medical Director of Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu, gave the commendation during an interview in Enugu on Friday.
The neuropsychiatrist disclosed that the new law would replace the Lunacy Act of 1958; which psychiatric doctors before now were subjected to operate with.
According to him, this is a good one for psychiatry practice in Nigeria. Thanks to our dear President for this wonderful New Year gift.
“I join the entire mental healthcare practitioners, patients, civil society organizations and indeed Nigerians to celebrate this landmark event in the practice and care of persons with mental health problems in Nigeria.
“I also want to thank the President for taking the bold step to re-shape mental healthcare service delivery in our space,” he said.
He said that a cursory look at the journey of this legislation showed a tortuous part to success, adding that Nigeria’s first mental health legislation, the Lunacy Ordinance, was enacted in 1916 and was revised in 1958.
Mr Igwe noted that the Lunacy Ordinance provided medical practitioners and magistrates with authority to imprison mentally ill people.
He explained that the law was enacted primarily to provide custodial care as evidence-based treatment approaches were still lacking at the time.
“The old law is flawed in several ways; firstly, the use of the term lunacy or idiocy is derogatory and stigmatizing and does not reflect the current thinking of mental health conditions.
“Secondly, it makes provision only for custodial care within the criminal justice system and not treatment in health care facilities.
“However, these laws have not been amended more than five decades after, despite a huge scientific evidence for cost-effective strategies and the availability of treatment in Nigeria.
“Several attempts in 2003 and 2013 were made to repel the act, with the most recent being in 2019, which is now assented by the President,” he said.
Mr Igwe noted that the signed bill was divided into 12 parts.
“The first part of the bill explains the act’s purpose and application; the second part explains the procedure for establishing the National Council for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, as well as its function and powers.
“The third part discusses the establishment and functions of a mental health review tribunal; and the fourth part articulates the rights of people with mental and substance use disorders, as well as the government’s responsibilities.
“We have a part that deals with the admission of patients involved in criminal proceedings; another part deals with the patients’ property and affairs.
“We also have a part that deals with the commission’s financial provisions; and with the establishment of the Mental Health Fund among others,” he said.
The don noted that the signed bill was not a perfect legislation, but “a major leap in the administration of mental healthcare service delivery in Nigeria”.
It would be recalled that the President of the Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria, Prof. Taiwo Obindo, who confirmed the signing earlier on Friday, described it as a great relief to the mental health care and practice in the country.