Expert advocates more incentives for psychiatric doctors to stop brain drain

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By Lydia Ngwakwe
Lagos, Oct. 9, 2020 A Consultant Psychiatrist and Forensic Medical Examiner, Dr Olusola Olowookere, has urged the Federal Government to give more incentives to qualified psychiatric doctors to stem emigration of skilled staff to foreign countries.

Olowookere, also the Chief Executive Officer of Greyinsights Limited, made the plea in an interview with Naija247news on Friday in Lagos ahead of the 2020 World Mental Health Day.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Mental Health Day is observed on every Oct. 10, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.

The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental healthcare a reality for people worldwide.

According to Olowookere, there are lower than 150 psychiatrists in Nigeria to cater for estimated 20-30 per cent of the population, believed to have one form of mental disorder.

“Nigeria like other African countries, is short of trained personnel in mental healthcare.

“Spurring the employment of qualified doctors who have the zeal to care for patients can help to stem this large increased cases of mental disorders.

“In Nigeria, an estimated 20–30 per cent of our population are believed to be suffering from mental disorders.

“This is a very significant number considering that Nigeria has an estimated population of over 200 million.

“One in four Nigerians suffers from mental illness, but help is hampered by tight budgets and lack of skilled staff.

“There are less than 150 psychiatrists in this country of 200 million, and WHO estimates that no fewer than 10 per cent of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need,” he said.

Olowookere urged the government to focus on increasing the number of psychiatrists and nurses in the field.

He said although, these efforts, over the past 60 years, have not appeared to have greatly improved service delivery at the grassroots.

“ Most of the specialist centres where such highly trained personnel work are in urban areas and for a large part of the population access to them is limited by distance and cost.

“That is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day is to create more awareness around the need for increased investment in mental health,” he said.

The psychiatrist said according to WHO,

Nigeria, the seventh largest country in the world, has Africa’s highest caseload of depression, and ranks 15th in the world in the frequency of suicide.

Olowookere said regrettably that for more than six years, a Mental Health Bill, was put forward to the National Assembly, yet the bill had no progress and support from anyone.

He said: “The Bill was withdrawn in April, 2009.

“It was presented again in 2013, when the National Policy for Mental Health Services Delivery set out the principles for the delivery of care to people with mental, neurological and substance abuse problems.

“Again, facing scant support, it has yet to become law.

“In the absence of a dedicated authority to assess compliance or support legislation, effect of this policy on quality of care and life for people living with mental health problems in Nigeria, remains negligible.”

Olowookere said that Nigeria was currently faced with a global human rights emergency in mental health, underpinned by poor societal attitudes toward mental illness and inadequate resources, facilities and mental health staff.

He, therefore, called on the government to ensure that mental health services were covered in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), to allow more people to have access to affordable healthcare.

The expert urged government to address the disintegration of mental health training, responses, and psycho-education within primary care settings, as contained in the National Mental Health Service Delivery Policy of Nigeria.

On impact of COVID-19, Olowookere said that the social isolation measures had a profound impact on the psychological and mental wellbeing of individuals in the society.

He said that many of the anticipated consequences of isolation measures were key risk factors for mental health issues including: suicide, self-harm, substance misuse, domestic and child abuse.

Olowookere said that social interaction had been widely interlinked with psychological wellbeing, social opportunities and employment; thereby restriction of these measures were suggested to be profoundly distressing to those experiencing strict isolation.

The psychiatrist said that the Greyinsights Limited offers emotional and mental wellness to employees in organisations across the globe.

He said: “We are not limited by distance as we offer virtual services to our clients and all of these services are rendered at cost friendly rates.

“This is because we value the essence of mental and emotional wellness as much as we do physical wellness.

“ Our Beyond Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Scheme offers emotional and wellbeing support for students and general population as a whole.”

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