Lagos, Nigeria – To mark Mental Health Week 2024, an interdisciplinary colloquium was organized by a coalition of mental health interest groups, bringing together a diverse array of participants including patients, mental health professionals, legal practitioners, police officers, policymakers, and health administrators.

The event, centered on the implementation of the National Mental Health Act 2021, highlighted the progress and challenges in mental health services in Nigeria.

The colloquium saw the attendance of about 120 participants, encompassing politicians, representatives from the Ministry of Health, senior health administrators, legal and mental health professionals from all geopolitical regions of Nigeria, as well as Nigerian experts based in Canada, the United States, and Australia.

Key discussions at the colloquium focused on the recent legal changes governing mental health services, with a special emphasis on the National Mental Health Act. Experts, policymakers, healthcare professionals, and patient advocates explored the implications of these changes, aiming to enhance the provision of mental health services through engaging presentations and group discussions.

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Prof. Adekunle Garba (AG) Ahmed, the event’s convener, highlighted the consensus among participants that the enactment of the National Mental Health Act is a significant step towards upholding human rights, promoting community-based services, and improving the quality of care for those with mental health conditions. The participants developed a set of recommendations to ensure the Act’s effective implementation and to drive progress in mental healthcare.

The communiqué issued at the end of the colloquium outlined several key actions:

Immediate establishment of the Department of Mental Health Services to spearhead the Act’s implementation.
Broad dissemination of the Mental Health Act in simplified formats and multiple languages.
Distribution of informational materials to religious groups, philanthropic organizations, government bodies, and educational institutions.
Comprehensive media engagement to raise awareness about patient rights under the Act, incorporating personal testimonies to drive advocacy and reduce stigma.
Educational initiatives targeting religious communities to improve understanding and counteract stigma associated with mental illness.
Development of mental health education plans for secondary and post-secondary institutions, including medical and law schools, police and military colleges, and professional development bodies.
Collaborative efforts with traditional healers to provide inclusive patient care.
Prioritization of the Mental Health Fund as a public-private funding model.
Task-shifting strategies to address the shortage of mental health practitioners.
Prof. Ahmed emphasized the participants’ commitment to advocating for the communiqué’s recommendations at all levels and actively promoting the Act’s implementation to enhance mental health services across Nigeria.

The colloquium’s outcomes signal a concerted effort to transform mental health care in Nigeria, ensuring that legal frameworks support comprehensive and accessible services for all individuals facing mental health challenges.

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