Home Health & Living Mental health: Buhari signs bill, as organisations call for implementation

Mental health: Buhari signs bill, as organisations call for implementation

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President Muhammadu Buhari has signed the National Mental Health Bill 2021 into law, marking a major milestone in Nigeria’s efforts to improve support for psychosocial wellbeing.

The new Mental Health Bill is the first legislative reform adopted in the field since independence.

The regulation assented to last Thursday, establishes human rights protections for those with mental health conditions, such as banning discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services.

It also guarantees that those receiving treatments have the right to participate in formulating their medical plans and cannot have forced treatment, seclusion, or other methods of restraint — common practices in mental health facilities — without appropriate safeguards.

“Past legislation was outdated and inhumane”, said the President of the National Association of Clinical Psychologists, Prof. Gboyega Abikoye, whose organisation submitted memoranda during legislative drafting.

“The previous regulatory regime was based on the Regional Lunacy Act of 1958, a colonial holdover that needed to be replaced”.

Other provisions of the Bill include establishing a new Mental Health Fund, a Mental Health Department in the Federal Ministry of Health, and a Mental Health Assessment Committee to protect stakeholders.

Additionally, it expands community-based coverage and improves the care and management of those with mental health conditions.

The Bill has been in the works for over twenty years, but all previous attempts at legislative overall of the sector in 2003 and 2013 failed.

The most recent Bill was introduced in 2019, with public hearings occurring in 2020. On November 28, 2022, the National Assembly passed the Mental Health Bill and transmitted it to the President, according to a memorandum by the Clerk to the National Assembly, Ojo Olatunde Amos.

“This legislation was a product of decades of advocacy from diverse organisations”, said Founder of Nigerian Mental Health, Chime Asonye.

The network helped lead advocacy efforts for the passage of the legislation, including coordinating an open letter to government officials signed by over 30 of the country’s leading mental health organisations and professional associations.

“The mental health community came together to speak with one voice in support of the Bill. We now need Executive implementation, state governments to domesticate this legislation, and those contesting for elected office to make mental health a national priority”, she said.

The network has also called on the government to enact other critical reforms for those with mental health conditions, such as decriminalising attempted suicide, which is currently a felony subject to a year in prison.

They point to studies that indicate that criminalisation discourages the help-seeking behavior of those facing psychological issues and will challenge the effective dispensation of the Mental Health Bill.

The body also urged the National Assembly to ensure gazetted copies of the Bill are available to citizens, so they know their new legal rights.

Organisations and professionals within the sector eagerly anticipate that the Bill will bring about necessary changes.

“While there is still a long way to go in developing the mental health sector in Nigeria, this law is a step in the right direction”, they added

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