COVID-19 has overwhelmed virtually every sector in countries of the world and has gradually but steadily enveloped almost all of Africa. To fight against the rapid spread of this pandemic, social
distancing and the implementation of other public health guidelines have been put in place, resulting in anguish, psychological challenges amidst restrictions on public life, economic hardship, and anxiety.
According to the 2018 Nigeria National Depression report, produced by Joy, Inc., in partnership with NOI Polls and research partners at Yale, one in three Nigerians are experiencing depressive symptoms. In a country that surpasses 200 million, it means over 60 million Nigerians are at risk of depression. As isolation intertwines with anxiety, hunger and mortality, these individuals could be pushed over the edge, yet conspicuously absent from recommendations for legislative reform was a key issue highlighted
by COVID-19: mental health. A lack of research on Nigeria’s mental health demographics has contributed to it being a low priority
among policymakers and inadequately funded. The country does not have nearly enough resources to cater for the mental needs of her citizens. Infrastructure is deficient and mental health workers have complained that the facilities are too few, face strained budgets, poor work conditions and staffing
The Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria has only 250 psychiatrists registered to it when millions potentially face mental health challenges. Nigeria’s poor mental health infrastructure is currently governed by a framework that has roots that date back to 1916. The Nigerian Mental Health Act which was proposed in 2003 did not pass the legislative process and the mental health bill which was passed by the Senate for second reading in 2019
is still yet to have definite results. As policymakers are planning a comprehensive approach to this virus,it is of utmost importance that mental health and its governing architecture be included, as mental health plays a major role in productivity as well as development.
Furthermore, the mental health of health workers should also not be overlooked. Medical workers need more than finances. Their mental health is at risk as they endure long hours, bear extreme isolation, cope with dwindling medical supplies, and are in constant proximity to death. These health officials who
engage day-to-day against the virus, are the most psychologically at risk. This could result in more mistakes on the job and burnout, leading to worse outcomes for patients. Policymakers in Nigeria need to continuously elevate mental health as a vital part of the national discussion. The first place they could start is by prioritizing passage of mental health legislation that is more human rights centered and updating the national mental health policy. A comprehensive public health response to COVID-19 should include mental health preparedness. Addressing key issues of quality care, comprehensive community response, funding, and respecting the human rights of those with psychological conditions in Nigeria is a step in the right direction in surviving this pandemic.