The World Health Organization (WHO) in its constitution defined health as follows: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” WHO further defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” From the foregoing, it is obvious that there can be no health without good mental health. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended guarantees the right to health for its citizens.
The theme for the 2018 World Mental Health Day is “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.” The United Nations defines the youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years. The Young Persons Act of Nigeria states that childhood ends at age 14. The Webster Dictionary defines youth as the time of life between childhood and maturity. An adolescent is an individual within the age bracket of 10 and 19 years. About 23 per cent of Nigeria’s population is made up of persons aged 10 to 24years.
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According to WHO, “half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated.” The primary aim of the 2018 World Mental Health Day theme is to improve the awareness of the public about emerging issues that can have negative impact on the mental health of young persons.
The widespread inappropriate use of technological devices in Nigeria brings to the fore the emerging phenomenon of cyber bullying and its adverse effects on the mental health of young persons. Young persons in Nigeria should be armed with basic information on how to prevent cyber bullying especially as regards what they post online(photographs and messages), who they communicate with online and how they ensure the integrity of the password to their social media accounts especially while using public technological devices.
Early intervention services for young persons who develop mental illness should be made accessible. Seamless linkage with services should also be provided as they become adults. For the records payment for mental health care services in Nigeria is still largely by direct out of pocket payment. Only very few nongovernmental organisations exists to crusade for improved care of mentally ill young persons in Nigeria. Another unsavoury report is the poor budgetary allocation to mental health care in Nigeria. WHO posits that low income countries like Nigeria invest less than 1 per cent of their health budget on mental health care. Giving effect to the spirit and letter of primary health care that incorporates mental health as its ninth component will improve access to mental health care for all and reduce the stigma associated with the illness.
The Federal Ministry of Health should conceptualise culturally appropriate and evidence based strategies for identification of issues that constitute a challenge to the mental health of young persons in Nigeria. Such strategies should be multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral. The teacher training curricula in Nigeria should be redesigned to enable teachers identify early signs of mental illness in students who are young persons.
In conclusion, government, nongovernmental organisations, community based organisations and religious organizations have a role to play in ensuring that the population of young persons ready to take over as leaders at different levels and tiers of government in Nigeria is not compromised by the burden of mental illness. Only mentally stable young persons in Nigeria can be beneficiaries of the recently enacted Not-Too-Young-To-Run law.
- Lawani Ambrose, Benin City Edo State
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