Solutions Journalism: How adolescent mental health project impacts FCT schools

“The Adolescent Mental Health Project (AMH Project) is a project which involves building a mentally healthy adolescent population and making these adolescents mental health advocates as they transition into adulthood.”

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The surge in suicide cases in Nigeria in recent years, particularly among teenagers and undergraduates has jolted the awareness of the Nigerian populace to the need to prioritise mental wellness of youths.

While physical wellness and the need to curb diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, cholera, Lassa fever and recently COVID-19 have been on the front burner of government and stakeholders in the health sector, mental illness, a silent killer and its attendant effects is sweeping through the country, a deadly trend that needs to be tackled urgently.

According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19 year-olds and 77 per cent of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries. (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide)

Nigeria ranks 15th in the world for its suicide rate and 7th highest in Africa (https://africacheck.org/fact-checks/reports/nigeria-ranked-15th-world-suicide-lesotho-tops-african-list)

While suicide is severe, mental health problems manifest in many other subtle yet deadly forms such as depression, substance use and learning disorders.

Mental health is the cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being of a person.

While today’s youths grapple with poverty, dysfunctional homes, sexual and physical abuse, self esteem and increased educational workload and pressure, there is a shortage of mental health care personnel to cater to their behavioral and emotional well-being thereby, resulting in suicides.

It is not uncommon to read reports of young men and women ingesting pesticides to end their lives over failed exams or heartbreak. (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide)

What step has the Nigerian Government taken to curb the trend?

The Federal Government of Nigeria, on its part, banned the sale of tiny bottles of an agro chemical product ‘Sniper’ which was preferably ingested for suicide by young people. (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/health/health-news/336205-suicide-nigeria-bans-sniper-chemical.html)

That action, though commendable, is a temporary measure to curb the ugly trend.

Introducing Mental Help Programmes in Schools

Mandate Health Empowerment Initiative (MHEI), a non-governmental organisation, decided to respond to the problem by reaching out to adolescent children in schools to educate them on mental wellness.

A prior survey on some federal schools had shown a low uptake of mental health literacy and ignorance of mental health illness among adolescents.

Armed with this knowledge, the organisation set out with a mental health advocacy to schools, to engage and help teenagers become champions of mental wellness.

The project known as FCT In-School Adolescent Mental Health Capacity Building Project has 10 selected schools in the Federal Capital Territory to build capacity on mental care and effective treatments.

In collaboration with the FCT Secondary School Education Board and Federal Ministry of Education, 20 students each from 7 public schools and 3 private schools from 14-19 years of age are selected for the intervention.

The programme is also extended to 2 counsellors in each of the 10 schools to attend to students’ needs long after the programme is completed.

Executive Director and Founder of the Initiative, Mr Ameh Abba, maintains that in order to ensure a mentally healthy and stable society, mental health awareness must be promoted among the young population.

“Mental Health is a category of health that has been neglected comparable to physical health and other kinds of health.

“Most mental health problems diagnosed in adulthood begin in adolescence; half of a lifetime diagnosable mental health disorders start at age 14.

“The Adolescent Mental Health Project (AMH Project) is a project which involves building a mentally healthy adolescent population and making these adolescents mental health advocates as they transition into adulthood.”

He said the programme prioritises gender and social inclusion as adolescent girls and students with disabilities are highly encouraged to participate.

Accessing Funds for Mental Health Outreach

Funding for the programme locally had been a major challenge until the European Union Agents for Citizen-Driven Transformation (EU ACT), implemented by the British Council, bought into the organisation’s proposal to sponsor the initiative for a year.

Moreso, bureaucracy on the part of the FCT Secondary Education Board to select 7 schools in a pool of hundreds of public schools for the model project took a stretch.

The executive director said collaborations with the Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Health, Secondary School Education Board and the National Commission for Education Research Development helped fasten the process and put it in perspective.

With the EU funding, the programme was launched on Nov. 2, and will run until November 2022.

Mrs Seyi Tetteh, the FCT State Focal Person for EU ACT said the organisation threw its weight behind the programme as its mission is to strengthen civil society organisations, networks and coalitions in programme planning and management to effect change in the society.

“We work with civil society organisations to enable them to be effective and credible drivers of change for sustainable development in Nigeria.

“The EU ACT acknowledges that there is a great need to create more awareness about mental health issues and its much needed solutions.

“Not addressing the mental health conditions of our people, particularly our adolescents, can affect them as adults and could impair both their physical and mental wellbeing and limit their opportunities in future.

“A mentally or emotionally broken person will not be able to give their all in all facets of life whether it relates to relationships, in schools, in their workplace, or in the society at large, thereby denying their generation and the world at large the opportunity to benefit from the great potentials that they carry.

“In some cases we have seen that depression and other mental health issues has led to cases of suicide in our society; this shows that there is a very urgent need to create awareness about mental health issues generally and the solutions to the issues.

“All hands must therefore be on deck; all stakeholders must work together to ensure that we have a mentally healthy and stable society so that we can better secure the future of our children, our people and the nation,” Tetteh said.

Uptake of the Project since the Launch

Miss Anne Alogwu, the Lead Clinical Psychologist and focal person for the project in schools, says intervention has begun in 5 of the 10 schools since its launch in November.

Unfortunately, the time spent in the selection of schools and mobilisation of experts to the approved schools coincided with revisions and first term examinations of schools in the FCT.

“Despite the fact that it was the examination period, we have been able to select 100 out of the 200 students from five of the schools approved, with 2 counsellors each.

“We have got the project started in Gwagwalada, Kuje, Dutse Alhaji, Kubwa and Wuse Government Schools and they are very excited about it.

“We will continue when schools resume in January because some school administrators did not want the students distracted during their exams,” she said.

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Alogwu noted that while some schools welcomed more participation of female students and the physically challenged, others opted for equity in gender, providing 10 male and 10 female students for the project.

Continuity and Collaborations for Wider Reach

While the organisation wishes to extend this capacity to many more schools and train much more counsellors, political will and funding would be the determining factor to ensure that Nigeria’s young population get mentally stable to function optimally socially and build a workforce to boost the nation’s economy.

Kitting up 200 students and 20 school counsellors yearly could be a great start in tackling mental health issues among adolescents in Nigeria if more organisations and the government can fund the programme and extend its reach to more states in the country.(NAN)

The project is with support from the Solutions Journalism Network and Nigeria Health Watch

 

Credit: News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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