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Fact-checking two claims about mental health in Nigeria

Nigeria continues to struggle with a shortage of both mental health experts and institutions, a psychiatrist has told a national daily newspaper.

Patients are also subjected to stigma, Dr Temitayo Daramola, a consultant psychiatrist, said in an October 2020 interview with Vanguard.

Daramola also made two claims about the number of mental health professionals and how widespread mental illness is in Nigeria. We fact-checked them. 

Claim: The country has about 350 psychiatrists to cater for a population of about 200 million.

Mental illnesses, sometimes referred to as mental disorders, “comprise a broad range of problems, with different symptoms,” the World Health Organization, or WHO, says. But they are generally characterised by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.

Examples of mental illnesses include depression, schizophrenia, intellectual disabilities and disorders due to drug use. Most of these disorders can be treated, the international health agency says.

In November 2019, Africa Check fact-checked a similar claim and found there were 250 registered psychiatrists and 200 psychiatry trainees under the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria.

All psychiatrists working in Nigeria must also be listed with the association, secretary-general Joyce Omoaregba told Africa Check. 

Did this number significantly change over the course of a year? Not so.

“As psychiatrists leave the country, [new psychiatrists] get registered, so I would say the number of psychiatrists in the country is approximately 250,” Omoaregba told Africa Check.

The country’s population estimate was 206.3 million as of 1 July 2020. We rate this claim as incorrect.

Claim: In Nigeria, about 25 % of the population is officially suffering from mental health challenges, but issues like the Covid-19 pandemic and economic problems could have increased it to 40%.

One in eight Nigerians have had a mental illness in their lifetime, Africa Check found in a previous fact-check. The most common were depression and anxiety disorders. 

This data was based on the largest nationally representative study on mental health in Nigeria, published in 2004.

It was carried out by the WHO in five of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones in 2002 and sampled 6,667 people over the age of 18.

This study is still the most reliable to fact-check this claim, Prof Oye Gureje, the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Neurosciences and Drug and Alcohol Abuse at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan, told Africa Check.  

“I will not support an arbitrary figure of 40% when there is no data to support the claim. It is sufficient to say a considerable increase in prevalence could be expected to have occurred,” Gureje said. We therefore find this claim as unproven.