A consultant Neuro-Psychiatrist, Dr Maymuunah Kadiri, on Friday urged the public to cultivate a culture of compassion and empathy in order to stop stigmatising people with mental illness in the society.
Kadiri, also Medical Director, Pinnacle Medical Services, gave the advice in an interview on the sidelines of the Vanguard Mental Health Summit in Lagos.
She decried the effects of neglect, discrimination and stigmatisation of mentally challenged persons, saying that it often affected treatment and caused more harm to such people.
To eliminate stigma and discrimination, there was need to remove the components of stigma which had to do with lack of knowledge, ignorance and prejudice, Kadiri said.
She explained that stigmatisation and discrimination against mental health disorder existed at various levels including government level, family, communities, organisations, employers, peers, among others.
“The impact of stigma on people with mental health disorder is that; it discourages such people from seeking care/help, worsens the impact of the illness on their lives, reduce the quality of life and lead to negative attitudes.
“Irrespective of our religious denominations, we need to build that culture of compassion, kindness and empathy.
“We need to encourage help seeking behaviour; promote that culture where people can get help, speak out and it will be heard, because if we fail to build the culture of compassion, stigmatisation against mental health illness will continue for a very long time’’, she said.
The neuro-psychiatrist said statistics had shown that one out of every four individuals would suffer mental illness in their lifetime, and one in five Nigerians are presently depressed.
Kadiri, therefore, urged the media to play its part in enlightening the public, advocate the rights of people with mental health and avoid the use of derogatory terms for mental illness.
Contributing, Ms Titilayo Tade, Training Coordinator, Suicide Prevention Initiative of Nigeria (SURPIN), identified stigma, cultural taboo and lack of awareness, as some of the challenges of the prevention and control of suicides in Nigeria.
Tade said that these factors needed to be addressed in order to stem the spate of suicides in the country, explaining that mental disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse, were associated with more than 90 per cent of suicide cases.
According to her, suicide and its prevention were inadequately addressed in Nigeria due to a lack of awareness as an important public health problem and the cultural taboo attributed to its public discussion.
“Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged from 15 to 44 – male and female.
“It is observed that suicide is under-reported because of the current Nigerian laws that are punitive toward people who commit suicide and the stigma experienced by family members of persons who commit suicide.
“Many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide are neither seeking nor getting the help they need because of stigma and cultural taboo.
“It is therefore important to raise public awareness about suicides and to break down the taboo associated with it in order to make progress in preventing suicide in Nigeria,” Tade said.
Tade also said that poor record keeping, surveillance and monitoring of suicidal behaviours were challenges that needed to be addressed.