Mental Health Bill 2020
Experts in mental health issues view mental illness as an important part of human narration. Likewise different social and cultural groups have different perceptions about what mental illness is, likewise their attitudes towards individuals with mental health issues differ.
Throughout human history it has been known that persons with mental illnesses are being stigmatized, discriminated against, and alienated from social activities. No matter the cultural background, geographical location/settings in the country, the individuals with mental health issues are at one point in time or another faced with discrimination and stigmatization.
The issues in adequate treatment for people with mental illness has been a concern since the Nigerian colonial times where the mentally ill people are left untreated or confined to an Asylum without proper treatment; and no formal psychiatric hospitals were established then. Thus, the need to provide appropriate treatment and care to persons with mental illness brought about the enactment of the Lunacy Act of 1958 in Nigeria by the British colonial masters
The current law (Lunacy Act) lacks what we might regards as the standard psychiatric practice in the 21st century Nigeria.
It was also largely focused on the custody of patients rather than treatment (since it was not available).
Thus, it offers no service or care by way of community treatment or related services since the lunatic (or otherwise of unsound mind) of the centuries of yore must be kept out of sight for their own and others’ safety.
In the absence of contemporary and rights-based mental health legislation, the abuse of the fundamental rights of mentally ill persons may occur without any proper means of redress. Mentally ill in our society are usually treated like little children!
I will say that the failure of the law to be guided by human rights perspective is one of its most serious defects. Current laws in other countries not only take human rights into consideration but seek to be in harmony with international conventions on the rights of humans with disability (this better represents the mentally ill).
In view of this, the proposed Mental Health Bill 2020 which addresses specific health issues and provides concrete and particular steps towards improving the mental health care system in Nigeria is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
The bill provides for the rights of persons who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. It also addresses key issues such as voluntary and involuntary admission, rights of families and other caregivers of patients, treatment for minors and prescribes sanctions for the breach of the provisions of the bill.
The Objectives of this proposed Mental health Act are to –
(a) Provide direction for a coherent, rational and unified response to the challenges relating to the delivery of mental health and substance abuse services in Nigeria
(b) Protect the rights and freedoms of persons with mental ill- health and substance use related disorders;
(c) Ensure a better quality of life through access to an integrated, well-planned, effectively organised and efficiently delivered mental health care and substance abuse service in Nigeria
(d) Provide a legal framework for the regulation of mental health and substance abuse related service delivery in Nigeria; and
(e) Protect persons with mental and substance abuse disorders from discrimination, victimization and unfair treat
From analysis, it has become clear that the colonial Lunacy Act of 1958 was dismally custodial in nature. Consequently, it not only disregarded the protection of certain human rights of mentally ill persons, but also in many ways was itself responsible for abusing their human rights.
At any rate, the proposed new bill, if and when enacted, would protect the human rights of persons with mental health needs. It would also ensure the provision of the highest standard mental health. All this is in keeping with the standards set by international bodies and organizations especially World Health Organization.