Attempted Suicide: Psychiatrists call for implementation of Mental Health Act

Leah TwakiMay 19, 20244 min

For the Act to be effective, Obindo stressed the need for the establishment of a Mental Health Services Department within the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH). 

Prof. Taiwo James Obindo, President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), has stated that significant evidence indicates that 90% of individuals who die by suicide have a history of mental health conditions, with 80% of these cases linked to depression which underscores the need for the decriminalisation of attempted suicide in the country.

Prof. Obindo made this call while speaking during a session organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Specialty Healthcare to discuss the prioritisation and implementation of the Mental Health Act.

He highlighted that the establishment of National Counselling Centers, int

ended to address mental health issues across the country, would be ineffective as long as attempted suicide remains a criminal offence under both the Criminal Act and the Penal Code.

He stated, “Hence the first step would be a move to decriminalize attempted suicide. Criminalizing attempted suicide has proven to be a major barrier for suicide prevention intervention service uptake.”

He further criticized the current laws, describing them as archaic and inherited from colonial times. These laws, according to him, fail to address the underlying thoughts and social determinants of suicide. “Significant evidence showed that 90% of those who take their lives through suicide had a background history of mental health conditions; out of which 80% are attributable to depression due to various bio-psycho-social aetiologies,” Obindo said. 

He questioned why the nation punishes individuals who are ill and in need of medical attention rather than providing the necessary support. 

Obindo also noted that Nigeria is lagging behind many of its neighbouring countries, which have already repealed such laws. He warned that establishing counselling centres without changing the law would also put counsellors at risk, as the law penalizes those who are aware of a suicide plan but fail to report it.

He therefore called for the implementation of the Mental Health Act, which was signed into law by the President of Nigeria in 2022 after rigorous legislative processes. This Act, he said, would address the “many years of neglect of this important aspect of our nationhood.” 

For the Act to be effective, Obindo stressed the need for the establishment of a Mental Health Services Department within the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH). 

“It will shock you to hear that, more than a year later, the department is yet to be established. Most of, if not all, the items in your plan are meant to be supervised by this department in obedience to the rule of law! Hence, the establishment of the department is germane to the success of all your plans,”

The APN President praised the efforts of the House Committee on Specialty Healthcare and encouraged continued advocacy for global best practices in mental health care. He acknowledged the committee’s initiative as a potential turning point for mental health in Nigeria, benefiting both individuals with mental health conditions and practitioners.

On his part, Rep. Alex Egbona (APC Cross River), Chairman  House Committee on Specialty Healthcare, called for stakeholder partnerships to address mental health challenges and related health issues. 

He emphasized the committee’s role in providing legislative frameworks for improved healthcare delivery in Nigeria and urged development partners, international NGOs, and CSOs to support the committee’s efforts.

“Consider our five thematic areas of Mental Health, Trauma and Obstetrics Fistula, Oral Health and ENT, Blood Transfusion, Blood and Management, Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine and engage the committee for maximum impact,” he said.

Leah Twaki

A Chemistry graduate, excels as a social media manager, digital journalist, and content creator with an interdisciplinary skills blend of science and communication.

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