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Don’t neglect mental health while treating patients, psychiatrists tell doctors

Angela Onwuzoo

The President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Prof. Taiwo Obindo has urged physicians not to neglect the impact of medical treatment on mental health.

According to the psychiatrist, physicians should be holistic in their approach when dealing with patients and consider how diseases that they are battling affect their mental health.

Obindo, who is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, disclosed this in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise.

He noted that medical practitioners must act in the best interest of patients at all times.

The psychiatrist explained, “Health itself is not just the absence of diseases and infirmities, so when we see our patients, we should not only be concerned with making diagnoses and offering pharmacological or surgical interventions. 

“We should be holistic in our approach and endeavour to consider how these diseases affect the mental health of our patients.

“For example, a surgical intervention such as resection of a tumour in the body when carried out on a patient without adequate psychological preoperative preparation could spiral such a person into anxiety symptoms or depression despite being an interventional procedure.

“To successfully treat this patient, the psychological effects of the illness must also be addressed before, during, and after the surgical procedure.”

He noted that the World Health Organisation now recognises the psychological impact of virtually all illnesses on patients.

“Hence, we now talk about Psychosomatic Medicine and leading to the establishment of a sub-specialty called Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry”, he added.

Prof. Obindo also advised physicians not to ignore their mental health while taking care of patients, stressing that anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal behaviour, and burnout were not uncommon among medical practitioners. 

“We must also recognise the signs of ailing mental health as early as possible, address them within the confines of our expertise and refer appropriately to our colleagues who are trained to tackle these illnesses.

“We must promote the all-inclusive model of care as much as possible particularly leveraging on the input of other mental health professionals within the bio-psycho-social model of investigation and treatment.  

“We have the public trust to act in the best interest of our patients at all times with non-maleficence and benevolence as our cardinal goals,” he said.

According to him, every health practitioner must also take care of himself or herself by practicing self-compassion.

He advised that physicians need to be at their optimum best to give their best to patients. 

The don said, “Symptoms and signs of mental illness should be looked out for in ourselves and our colleagues with appropriate referral where needed. 

“Anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal behaviour, burnout, etc. are not uncommon amongst medical practitioners. 

“We must also maintain the tenets of do no harm and leaving our clients better than the way we met them at all times.”

Speaking further, the APN president said there was a severe dearth in the number of professionals trained to tackle mental health issues in the country.

Prof. Obindo said, “I can say categorically that there are less than 250 psychiatrists currently practicing in Nigeria, with a meagre sum of about 250 currently in training – most of whom we can expect to leave for other countries in search of a job. 

“There is an urgent need for the government to create more mental health facilities across the nation, improve the conditions of training of our doctors and provide more opportunities for them after their training. 

 “This will not only aid in keeping our best brains within the country but will go a long way in improving our mental health profile as a country.”

The psychiatrist had in September said that more than 60 million Nigerians were suffering from mental illnesses.

Prof. Obindo, the Chairman, Faculty of Psychiatry, West African College of Physicians, Nigeria Chapter, said, “Mental healthcare is in a sorry state given that we have more than 60 million Nigerians suffering from various mental illnesses and the fact that only about 10 per cent of them were able to access appropriate care.

“We are left with more than 90 per cent who are unable to access care and this group is called the treatment gap for mental illnesses.”

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