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Expert decries poor funding, investment in mental healthcare

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A medical expert and Medical Director of Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital (FNPH), Benin City, Dr. Imafidon Agbonile yesterday urged government at all levels to provide adequate funding and investment to address issues of mental health in the country with a view to ensuring improved care and intervention in the sector.

Agbonile made the call in Benin City at an event organised by the Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital (FNPH), Benin City to mark the 2020 World Mental Health Day with the theme, “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access.”

Expressing concern over the state of mental health in the state and country, Agbonile lamented a worrisome situation in the country where mothers kill their children, fathers take their own lives, and adolescents resort to drugs to cope with an alarming widespread fear and insecurity preventing persons from living peacefully or seeking decent employment.

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Agbonile, who noted that mental health is the business of all, said, “We ignore mental health promotion and care to our peril. While the bulk of limited resources are allocated to healthcare interventions for the body, very little is allocated for interventions or prevention efforts for the mind.

“In order to improve access to mental health, care must be available effectively at the primary health care level. Several evidence-based interventions, like the WHO Mental Gap Action Program (MhGAP) have proven that scaling-up services at this level through capacity building for health professionals can make a huge difference in increasing access. ”

The medical director stressed that for decades, Nigeria had adopted or developed sound heath policies but noted that what has been lacking is investment. He lamented that the continuous call on government to increase investment in mental health had yielded minimal returns.

“In fact, mental health facilities at the tertiary level are limited in their activities by decreased funding every budget year. The federal government has been consistent with emoluments for its skilled workforce. We can then build on this by utilizing the capacity of this workforce in scaling up services at primary and secondary levels of care.

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“In Edo state for example, only one psychiatrist works at the secondary level of care. This together with few psychiatrist nurses, social workers and such like tells us the current parlous state of mental health services,” he said.

Agbonile added that mental health conditions are associated with loss of earning power of patients and their caregivers, stressing that often caregivers present late for service or are inconsistent with care access due to lack of funds.

Agbonile, who was represented by a consultant psychiatrist FNPH, Dr. Bawo James, said that to improve access to care, it is imperative that government should increase investment in mental health services through promotion and adequate funding.

“To improve access to care, we need investment. Investment goes beyond funds. It includes investment in time, volunteerism, expertise and engagement with relevant authorities,” he said.

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