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Psychiatrists Call For Decriminalisation Of Attempted Suicide

Obindo said the establishment of the National Counselling Centers all over the country in an attempt to address mental health, is like putting the cart before the horse.


 

The President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria (APN), Prof. Taiwo Obindo, has called for the decriminalisation of attempted suicide in the country. 

He made the call during a session of stakeholders organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Specialty Healthcare, on the need to prioritise and implement the Mental Health Act.

Obindo said the establishment of the National Counselling Centers all over the country in an attempt to address mental health, is like putting the cart before the horse, because a suicide attempt is still a criminal offence in both the Criminal Act and the Penal Code.

“Hence the first step would be a move to decriminalize attempted suicide. Criminalising attempted Suicide has proven to be a major barrier to suicide prevention intervention service uptake.

“The archaic law, inherited from our Colonial masters, in an attempt to stop the act of suicide did not address the thoughts and social determinants of Suicide. Significant evidence showed that 90% of those who take their lives through suicide had a background history of Mental Health Conditions; out of which 80% are attributable to Depression due to various bio-psycho-social aetiologies.

“Why do we, as a nation, then punish individuals who are ill and need medical attention rather than prosecution? It will shock you to know that Nigeria, the giant of Africa, is lagging as quite a number of our neighbouring nations have abrogated that law.

“Establishing a counselling centre, without abrogating this archaic law would put, even the counsellors at risk because the law also prescribes penalties for those who are aware of the plan but did not report,” he said.

He called for the implementation of the Mental Health Act, which according to him, is a product of legislation that went through rigorous due process by the legislature, assented to by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2022, and has been gazetted as a law of the country.

This, he said, would address the “many years of neglect of this important aspect of our nationhood.”

Obindo said a requirement for the effective implementation of the Act, is the establishment of a Mental Health Services Department in the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH).

“It will shock you to hear that, more than a year later, the department is yet to be established. Most of, if not all, the items in your plan are meant to be supervised by this department in obedience to the rule of law! Hence, the establishment of the department is germane to the success of all your plans,” he said.

He said the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria is an umbrella body of all Nigerian Psychiatrists in the Country and other allied Practitioners, adding that they have been at the fore of campaigns and advocacy for global best practices.

He lauded the committee for the initiative, saying when well-implemented, would positively impact the hitherto neglected Mental Health, persons affected by Mental Health Conditions, and Mental Health Practitioners.

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on  Special Healthcare, Dr Alex Egbona, also called for stakeholders’  partnership in addressing mental health challenges and other related health cases.

The lawmaker said the committee was created to provide the requisite legislative frameworks for improved healthcare delivery in Nigeria.

He said the session is a collaborative initiative of the committee to share its mandate and planned activities with identified relevant institutions and organisations.

“I, therefore, solicit the support and partnership of all stakeholders, our development partners, international NGOs, and CSOs, you are all urged to take an interest in building the capacity of the committee members and staff to enhance the efficacy of the committee.

“Consider our five thematic areas of Mental Health, Trauma and Obstetrics Fistula, Oral Health and ENT, Blood Transfusion, Blood and Management, Traditional Complementary and Alternative Medicine and engage the committee for maximum impact,” he said.