The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire has urged the military to increase awareness on mental health among its personnel toward addressing impact of post-trauma and stress disorder among troops.
Ehanire made the call at the opening of a Mental Health Resilience and Wellness Course 2 (MHRWC2) of the Nigerian Army Resource Centre (NARC) on Monday in Abuja.
The minister was represented by the National Coordinator, the National Mental Health Programme of the ministry, Dr Tunde Ojo.
He said that the effort should include programmes that would address stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, saying it was one of the greatest barriers to accessing care.
The minister also stressed the need to create conducive working environment including one that promotes mental wellbeing and proactively addresses the mental health needs of officers and men when identified.
“Unfortunately, there is the high tendency to give priority to the physical health needs ahead of mental health which should be looked into.
“I am aware there is dearth of mental health professionals in the country, and more so in the military as there are less than five psychiatrists in the entire military formation in the country.
“May be the statistics is much better for others like clinical psychologists, mental health nurse and medical social workers.
“I want to encourage you to invest more in this area trough recruitment and in service training.’’
According to him, there should be a multidisciplinary team to reflect the holistic approach to mental health and not just the biomedical approach.
“The federal ministry of health is available to give you technical support in achieving any of these,” he said.
Ehanire said that the ministry was leading the initiative for the improvement of mental health care services in Nigeria by developing a National Mental Health Bill 2020, for an Act to repeal the Lunacy Act of 1958.
This, he said was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly in 2021, and awaiting assent by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said that proactive measure had been put in place with the establishment of the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in March, pending conclusion of the legislative processes on the bill.
Ehanire said the government had also engaged a consultant psychiatrist to coordinate the national response to the rising burden of mental health, neurological and substance use disorders in the country.
According to him, the national mental policy is in the process of being reviewed to reflect current realities and global best practices.
He commended the centre for designing the training being facilitated by the Department of Army Transformation and Innovation, Peace Building Consult and other stakeholders.
Also speaking, Dr Ojo said that mental health had been a major issue as a result of the security challenges such terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, with officers and men being deployed in the warfronts to defend the country and protect lives.
He said the personnel were being exposed to a lot of risk factors that might make them to be predisposed to mental disorders.
The minister said that there was a high level of mental health conditions among troops arising from anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
According to him, when people are at the warfront, they are trying to get some coping mechanisms and one of that is using drug.
“We are here to help them and also sensitise the stakeholders that mental health is everyone’s business and that we cannot afford not to talk about it,” he said.
The Director-General of NARC, retired Maj.-Gen. Garba Wahab said the second course was designed to improve the understanding of mental health and build resilience by participants drawn from different facets of the society.
Wahab said that a lot of people felt that only those who had contact with problematic situation that could be stressed forgetting the fact that the society itself was full of factors that could contribute to stress.
He said that both the military personnel and their families and other victims had been affected hence the need to bring a crossbreed of every sector of the country to look at the issues.
Wahab said that rather than being judgmental about people who had mental health issues, there was the need to see how it could be managed as well as reduce the risk involved.
He said the enormous impact of the first course informed the resolve to bring in participants from all levels of government.