Senate seeks to establish Agency for Mental Health

The Senate on Wednesday considered a Bill seeking to establish the National Agency for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The Agency, when established, shall be charged with effective management of mental health and psychosocial disabilities in Nigeria.

Sponsor of the bill, Senator Yahaya Oloriegbe (APC, Kwara Central), in his lead debate, said the bill among others, also seeks to criminalize abuse of persons with mental health and psychological disabilities.

According to him, if passed into law, the bill will decriminalize substance abuse disorder and increase funding for mental health and psycho-social programmes.

Making a case for the bill which scaled second reading on the floor, Oloriegbe said “according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 50 million people are suffering from some sort of mental illness in Nigeria.

He added that “as the seventh-largest country in the world, Nigeria has Africa’s highest rate of depression, and ranks fifth in the work frequency of suicide.”

According to Oloriegbe, there is no Mental Health Law in Nigeria besides the Regional Lunacy Law of 1958 which, he noted, violates fundamental Human Rights of persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities.

The lawmaker, therefore, advocated that persons living with mental health and psychosocial disabilities be considered as “disadvantaged and vulnerable”, adding that “government should make special provisions for them in all spheres of their lives”.

Oloriegbe said if passed into law by the National Assembly, the bill would protect persons with mental and substance abuse disorder from discrimination, victimization and unfair treatment by employers, academic institutions and other agencies.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) said as a way of reducing cases of substance abuse, the Federal government must ban the importation of drugs and substances into the country.

The Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, said in the United States of America, a lot of cases of gun violence and killings were carried out by patients of mental health disabilities.

He warned that in order to avoid such happenings in Nigeria, government must swing into action by identifying and caring for people with mental health challenges.

Adam Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central) while supporting the bill said, “the incidence of drug abuse is very alarming. No zone is excluded.

“There is need for a commission to be established to take care of people with mental illness.”

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, after consideration of the bill, referred same to the Committee on Health for further legislative work.

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