In this exclusive interview with Emmanuel Akaolisa of The News Chronicle, Dr Dayyabah Shaibu, Country Director of Reconnect Health Development Initiative (RHDI), a mental health non-profit, non-government organization, sheds light on issues surrounding mental health, clarifying misconceptions about mental health and the vision of RHDI
TNC: Greetings Ma, we are glad to have you in this interview. Tell us about your organisation, Reconnect Health Development Initiative. What does it do and how has the journey been?
Dr Dayyabah : Reconnect Health Developmental Initiative is a mental health charity with presence in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Our main focus area is mental health, and we do this by supporting individuals, families and organisations in this area. Our core vision is making mental healthcare; available, affordable and accessible to people who need it. We make it available by advocating for people with mental health challenges and creating awareness to eradicate the stigma.
TNC: Why did you go into this area of operation; mental healthcare, which a lot of individuals and organisations see as difficult and seem to shy away from even in developed countries, not to talk of developing countries?
Dr Dayyabah : Firstly, the founder and president of Reconnect Health Development Initiative is a consultant psychiatrist, so it is not surprising that he established something in his field as other professionals with passion also joined the team. We as an organisation have taken the bold step into areas that others might shy away from because indifference will not make the issues go away.
TNC: What is your general assessment of mental health challenges and care in Nigeria? Has the state, private institutions and other groups been doing enough?
Dr Dayyabah : Generally in life we hardly say enough as there is that natural urge to always do more, so also in the area of mental healthcare, more needs to be done.
For example, health sector takes just 3 to 4% of the entire budget allocation for a population of over 200 million people in Nigeria and from that portion just a fraction is allocated to government owned psychiatry hospitals which are just 8 in the whole country.
Yet individuals and families who need mental health services prefer to use privately owned mental health facilities as they feel they receive better care, whereas government facilities may have higher traffic because of lower cost.
There needs to be an increase in public/private partnership, increase in awareness of mental health services and conditions in order to blend the government subsidies and private efficiency together.
Mental healthcare is something everyone needs, there is no need for stigmatization.
Regulatory agencies need to do better in terms of cracking down on quacks, for example, because of the increase in awareness of mental health issues and challenges, a lot of unqualified people are claiming to be therapists thereby swindling unsuspecting victims.
TNC: Despite the challenges like superstitious believes in the causes of mental illness, illiteracy, poverty etc, what keeps you going, how has Reconnect Health Development Initiative waded through the waters all these years?
Dr Dayyabah : There is this general issue of superstitious believes in almost every aspect of our lives, with mental health it is even more. When you look at the history of mental health issues, like in the “lunacy act”, it started with mental health facilities being situated in the outskirts of town before we now have what it is today.
It has been quite a challenge, but with increased education and advocacy we are changing the narrative. We are training and educating health personnel, individuals, organisations etc regarding mental health.
TNC: Many people believe that mental health is in no way connected to general health or well-being. For example, to say it has nothing to do with flu, diet, and environment. How true is this?
Dr Dayyabah: Interestingly there is a correlation between physical health and mental health. As long as someone is alive they have an emotion which is part of mental health; there is no health without mental health. Everyone has mental health, it is mental health issues that everyone may not have.
TNC: Partnerships. Have you been able to partner with government bodies, notable individuals and corporate institutions in your activities?
Dr Dayyabah: Yes we have, we are quite big on partnerships. We have partnerships with other nongovernmental organisations to strengthen their psycho-social forte. These organisations work in other areas and may not realize how their work impacts on the personnel. We work with ministry of women affairs, ministry of education, ministry of health and civil society organisations. Our consortium provides mental health services where we train in-house personnel of multinational companies, government organisations like Garki Hospital Federal Medical Center etc.
We also work with the leprosy mission. Though leprosy is a physical manifestation, yet the stigma associated with it actually does have a toll on mental health. We are in conversation towards more partnerships.
TNC: Any special plans for Reconnect Health Development Initiative in the future you might want to share
Dr Dayyabah: Just like I said earlier that our vision is to make mental health care available, affordable and accessible, until this is achieved our work isn’t done. So we will continue to create awareness, provide subsidized services for people who want quality care but may be unable to afford it and continue to partner with high quality service providers to make Reconnect Health Development Initiative services available to all.