Mental Health Bill ready for Presidential assent after two failed attempts

Findings have shown that COVID-19 pandemic ushered in not only a public health emergency but also a crisis impacting Nigerians’ minds

A Civil Society Organisation, Nigerian Mental Health, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the Mental Health Bill recently submitted to his office by the Clerk of the National Assembly, Olatunde Ojo.

The group, in a statement Wednesday, said the bill was finally passed by the National Assembly on after two failed attempts since 2003.

“Mental health regulatory reforms have languished in Nigeria’s legislative chambers for almost two decades, with failed attempts at overhaul in 2003 and 2013.

“In 2019, mental health legislation was again advanced, with the Senate passing it for second reading in November of that year and holding public hearings in 2020.

“Harmonisation of the bill concluded between both legislative chambers in June 2021. Since last year, mental health practitioners have been waiting for the bill to be finalised and transmitted to the President,” the statement reads in parts.

Bill submission

A memorandum obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, signed by the Clerk, Mr Ojo, also confirmed that the bill awaits the President’s consideration and assent “in consonance with the provisions of the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.

However, the CSO has called on the President to urgently assent the proposed legislation, as it “will help replace the regional Lunacy Act of 1958, which practitioners condemn as outdated and inhumane”.

Failed attempts

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, the Founder of Nigerian Mental Health, Chime Asonye, explained that after several attempts, the bill was reintroduced in 2019 and that this is the first time it’s passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the President.

On why the bill failed, he noted that “there have been different types of conversations about why it hasn’t been passed, but the major conclusions were that it wasn’t high in terms of the political agenda and the roles and responsibilities of psychiatrists versus psychologists, etc”.

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He added that finance is also an issue. “When you think about health in general, we don’t finance health budget. And only a very small percentage goes to mental health, so it wasn’t even a priority in the health,” he said.

Benefits of the bill

According to the CSO, some provisions of the bill include creating a Department of Mental Health Services in the Federal Ministry of Health and a Mental Health Fund, the establishment of human rights protections for those with mental health conditions, such as banning discrimination in housing, employment, medical, and other social services.

It added that the bill is “an improvement from the old law as it guarantees that those receiving treatments have the right to participate in formulating their medical plans and cannot have forced treatment, seclusion, and other methods of restraint in mental health facilities.”

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