Most mental illnesses undiagnosed, untreated –Psychiatrist


Lara Adejoro

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A Consultant Psychiatrist and former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, Dr. Olufemi Olugbile says most episodes of mental illness are undiscovered and untreated.

Speaking during a zoom meeting organised by Retreat Healthcare in commemoration of the 2021 World Mental Health Day themed ‘Mental health in an unequal world’, Dr. Olugbile said the state of mental health services in most countries of the world leaves a lot to be desired. 

“In Nigeria, the picture is as bleak as ever. Most episodes of mental illness to this day go undiscovered and untreated, leaving an army of ‘walking wounded’ in the population carrying out the rituals of everyday life,” he said.

According to him, COVID-19 lockdowns, fear of infections, deaths, and unprecedented challenges worsened the mental health cases in the world.

“Domestic violence and intimate partner homicide spiraled. People became uncertain about the future of their work. The assumptions concerning what was an office and how work should be done were shaken to the foundations. 

“But in the long march of Mental Health, COVID-19 will prove merely a blip, though one that has inspired fear and opened eyes.”

He said this year’s theme on mental health is important as inequality exists not just between people, but even more between nations.

The psychiatrist said “Among nations, as among individuals, resources are not equitably distributed. There are rich people with a lot of disposable income, including income they may use to buy the best mental health care possible for themselves and their families. 

“There are families who are not able to tell where their next meal is going to come from. All the categories of mental illness exist in both rich and poor. However, extreme poverty such as exists in some of the most deprived areas of Nigeria and the world at large is a vulnerability factor for many illnesses.

“Inequality exists not just between people, but even more starkly between nations. There are nations that are, by and large, able to meet the needs of their people. There are other nations, such as most of the nations of Africa, where there has been a tradition of relying on other nations to do the thinking and find the cures for illnesses that ravage their people, such as malaria and sickle cell disease.

“In situations such as COVID-19 where resources are universally stretched, it is only reasonable that rich nations will look after their people first, whether in relation to vaccines or other materials, before attending to the needs of dependent others.

“What the theme of this year’s mental health day intends to say is that we are all in it together, as a people, and as a world. The attention of a post-COVID-19 world should not just be focused on having rich nations responding to the heightened awareness of their people concerning Mental Health by scaling up preventive and curative service provision. 

“Rather everybody’s attention should on seeing that nobody is left behind. Poor nations should focus not on how much aid they can extort from their rich neighbours in tandem with their long-standing sense of entitlement, but on how they can expand their own capabilities to respond to their people’s needs.”

Olugbile noted that primary health care, including basic mental healthcare, should be made available at every citizen’s doorstep.

“This will need to be synchronized with specialist regional supervision, facilities, and services. Government cannot do it alone, and there is a requirement for strong private sector participation in awareness creation and service provision,” he added. 

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