In other to enhance realization of Mental Health Rights in Nigeria, National Human Rights Commission NHRC has called for humane treatment of Persons with Mental Health Conditions, psycho-social or cognitive disabilities – as they also ought to be beneficiaries of Right to Dignity of the Human Person.
In alliance with other Mental Health advocates, the Commission was at the forefront of advocacy for legislative intervention in the area of mental health in Nigeria. This culminated in the Presidential Assent in January 2023 , to the Mental Health Bill earlier passed into law by the National Assembly in 2021.
The National Mental Health Act represented a commitment of government to progressively realize right to health pursuant to its obligation under the International Covenant on Economic , Social and Cultural Rights. Remarkably, the Act reaffirms Mental Health as a Human Right.
This is symbolic having been eloquently reechoed in the theme for 2023 World Mental Health Day which is “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’.
The right to health is all encompassing of the various health components including mental health as acknowledged by World Health Organization and guaranteed by the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
The constitution also provided for Right to Health in Chapter 2 and there are government efforts to give effect to the right by other domestic legislation such as National Health Act (2014). Furthermore, the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This includes Mental Disability
Having passed the Mental Health Bill into law and subsequent Presidential assent , what next? How have the spirit and letters of the legislation been operationalized ? How available is Mental Health care in the country? How accessible are they? Are they affordable? It needs to be underscored that Availability, Accessibility and Affordability are central to government obligation in relation to all economic, social and cultural rights.
The National Human Rights Commission in 3 release signed by the Executive Secretary,Chief Tony Ojukwu, urged government at all levels to take further progressive steps to give effect to the legislation in order to enhance mental health in Nigeria.
He said; “Indeed, Mental Health Rights are Human Rights as the theme of this year’s Global Mental Health Day reinforces. Therefore, besides right to healthcare, other mental health rights include- right to dignity of the human person, and freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; right to non discrimination and right to life among others.
In addition to legislative intervention, social advocacy is crucial. Supported by Civil Society Organizations, relevant government Institutions i.e ( Ministry of Information and National Orientation Agency) should be in the fore-front to advance enlightenment regarding mental health and to dispel myths, superstition , ignorance and misconceptions about Mental illness in order to create a climate of understanding and acceptance so that people with psychosocial , cognitive- disabilities or substance abuse problems are meaningfully integrated in families and society; protected from stigma, discrimination, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment such as beating, flogging, chaining among other abusive conduct to which those affected with mental health condition are subjected.
“It is also critical for government to urgently scale up measures to address economic and social conditions that affect mental well being of persons in Nigeria so that Nigerians and people in Nigeria will have the appropriate mental health balance to contend with life.
“As we mark the 2023 Global Mental Health Day, these human rights imperatives ought to be on the front burner of government and governance.
“Indeed, mental health rights are human rights!”