Psychiatrist advocates Mental Health First Aid for senior citizens

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Dr Paul Ameh, an Australia-based Psychiatrist, on Wednesday called for the establishment of Mental Health First Aid to address the mental health needs of senior citizens in the country.

In an interview in Abuja, Ameh said that the mental health needs of senior citizens in the country were often misdiagnosed.

“And so, if the government establishes a strategy like Mental Health First Aid, it would give people something they can do, when they find their loved ones in crisis,” he said.

The psychiatrist noted that Mental Health First Aid was developed in Australia in 2001 and available in 24 other countries.

He urged government to recognize and respond to mental health emergencies of Nigerians, especially the elderly, during emotional distress.

According to him, the misuse of prescription drugs is also a significant concern within the country.

Ameh said the senior citizens required prescription drugs, nearly three times as often as the general population.

The Nigerian government and the mental health system should look at how to prepare and address the unmet needs of senior citizens around mental health, substance use and ageing services.

“The most common mental health disorders that we are seeing among elderly are anxiety and major depression, that is pretty consistent with the national picture.

“Government should know that those who are suffering from anxiety and depression also contribute to severe isolation, inactivity and high suicide rates,” he said.

According to him, one effort to address these challenges, which are made worse by stigma and denial, is Mental Health First Aid.

We need training programme that should be designed to expand in all our primary health care centres, and help more lay people recognize signs of possible mental health issues,” he advised.

Ameh said that government should also create an awareness programme that would provide Nigerians with skills to help the senior citizens who are developing mental health problems or experiencing mental health crises.

“There is this huge unmet need of mental health services in the country.

“The difficulty in accessing behavioural health services has a lot to do with the short supply of adequate staff, place, access to transportation, language and culture; there are all sorts of reasons,” he said.

Ameh noted that the goal was to teach people to recognise signs of a mental health disorder and what to do in the short term, until they connect to a professional or until the crisis had been resolved.

It is an opportunity for the lay person to do something,” he said.

The medical doctor noted that people did not make referrals for their parents, friends, neighbours, or community members for mental health services, because they could not always recognise it.

He said that in instances where they recognised it, they usually do not know what to do.

Ime Njoku