HAPPINESS Project increases access to mental health treatment in Nigeria

10 January, 2019

Extracts below, with thanks to Global Health Now. Full text here: https://news.yale.edu/2019/01/09/happiness-project-increases-access-ment...

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Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that more than 500 million people worldwide suffer from mental health disorders, costing the global economy more than $1 trillion in U.S. dollars annually in lost productivity. Of those people, a full 70% of those in need of mental health services lack access to care.

In Africa these statistics can be even worse due to a variety of factors including a widespread stigma held by many against those suffering from mental illness, mistaken beliefs that mental health cannot be treated, and a lack of resources for treating it. African leaders often prioritize other challenges over mental health as they tackle issues ranging from poverty to infectious diseases to conflicts. In Africa most countries devote an average of less than 1% of their health spending to the problem, compared with 6% to 12% in Western countries.

Dr. Theddeus Iheanacho, assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale, is working to help change that.

In 2018, Iheanacho partnered with a group of other researchers to kickstart the HAPPINESS Project (Health Action for Psychiatric Problems In Nigeria including Epilepsy and Substances), a pioneering program based in Imo State, Nigeria, that aims to increase access to effective, evidence-based treatments for mental disorders and epilepsy in underserved areas of the country, using technology and existing care infrastructure.

In Nigeria, there is one psychiatrist for every 4.8 million people. To overcome this lack of capacity the HAPPINESS Project brings together mental health specialists, educators, implementation experts, and administrators from a broad swath of cross-cutting partner organizations to integrate mental health care and treatment into general medical care in Nigeria.

The program oversees the training of primary care workers in rural communities to screen for, assess, and manage mental disorders in their communities. It was originally initiated as a collaboration between Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, Yale’s School of Medicine, and Imo State University’s Teaching Hospital, and is supported by the Yale Global Mental Health Program, CBM International, the Imo State Primary Health Care Development Agency, and Imo State Government...

Iheanacho and his team are also piloting a HAPPINESS Project telemedicine framework at two sites in Imo State. This framework will connect primary care clinics to the specialists at the tertiary centers, reducing the need for long travel hours. Iheanacho is also working with the Department of Biomedical Bioengineering to develop a training app that will reduce the need for in-person training and enhance training for remote centers.

“Our intent is to use telemedicine and mobile technology tools to increase access to Nigerian psychiatrists at home and in the diaspora through their participation in the HAPPINESS Project,” said Iheanacho. “If all goes well, it could be adapted and serve as a model for integrating mental health in primary care not only in Nigeria, but eventually many other African countries.”

For more information about The HAPPINESS Project, or to get involved in supporting the work underway, email Iheanacho at theddeus.iheanacho@yale.edu or visit the project website.

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Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org