HomeHealthMajority of mental health patients visit traditional healers, spiritual homes –Psychiatrist

Majority of mental health patients visit traditional healers, spiritual homes –Psychiatrist

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Angela Onwuzoo

President, Association of Psychiatrists of Nigeria, Prof. Taiwo Sheikh, says 70 percent of people with mental health conditions in Nigeria visit traditional healers and spiritual homes first before coming to hospitals for treatment.

The APN president blamed this on lack of specialists, inadequate modern mental health facilities and poor funding.

Sheikh, a Professor of Psychiatry at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said there was a huge gap in the number of mental health services available and the number of people demanding the services.

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, the psychiatrist said the government must address the challenge of access to mental healthcare services to ensure people with mental illnesses have access to modern mental health services and stop patronising unorthodox care. 

He explained, “There are studies that have been conducted in this country that looked at the pathway to mental health care and found out that 70 percent of people who have mental health issues in Nigeria first of all would go to traditional healers or spiritual homes first before they come to modern hospitals. 

“Then we also have an issue of the mental health gap. That is the gap between available orthodox services and what the people are getting. 

“In this part of the world, it has been shown that between the available services and the service demand, the gap is up to 80 percent.

“Up to 80 percent of people who have mental health issues in Nigeria are not able to access modern health care services.

“When we are talking about why patients are patronising spiritual homes and traditional healers. The question is do we have enough modern health care facilities for people to patronise?

“Do we have equitable, available, accessible and affordable modern health care facilities for people to access? The answer is no, we don’t have.”

According to the APN president, the country has about 300 psychiatrists serving over 200 million people.

“Look at the number of specialist institutions that we have that offer mental health services. Outside the specialist psychiatric hospitals which are eight in this country, the others are departments of psychiatry of teaching hospitals that are scattered across the country here and there.

“Most state governments do not have provision for mental health services not talk of local governments”, he noted.

The psychiatrist noted that for Nigeria to able to bridge the gap, the government must improve on facilities available. 

Sheikh reiterated, “We need to increase manpower. Not only that, we need to provide the fund that will improve what we are talking about. And the provision of funds by either direct budgetary allocation for mental health and also by integrating mental health in all levels of the health care delivery system in Nigeria.

“Mental health should be integrated into primary healthcare, all general hospitals, and all tertiary hospitals. 

“By so doing, we are increasing available services to people, the number of patients visiting spiritual homes and traditional healers will reduce because there would be an increase in access to modern treatment.”

The APN president pointed out that the integration of mental health in all levels of care would also reduce stigma.

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