[#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series] Inspiring African innovations: Mental Health Scale Up Nigeria (mhSUN)
This blog is part of our series celebrating World Health Day 2017. This year's theme is Depression: Let's Talk and we're showcasing inspiring innovations addressing depression across Africa.
Through use of existing mental health centres of excellence to support decentralised (district and primary care) services, Mental Health Scale Up Nigeria (mhSUN) provides accessible services and demonstrates efficacy in integrating mental health into health systems in Nigeria.
Tell us about your country’s context and the circumstances that inspired your innovation
Nigeria is in the unusual position of having significant resources, but still huge unmet needs in health care, education etc. In the case of mental health, services are restricted to the historic large psychiatric hospitals. Even though these are mainly now very professional and busy hospitals, they will never meet the needs of the population, especially those not in the largest cities. The mhSUN innovation, which focuses on integrating mental health into primary care, was inspired by the idea of mental health services being available to a much wider proportion of the community, which would also be less stigmatizing, and improve the ability of health care personnel to recognise mental health needs among all their patients.
What aspect of your project are you most excited about? How is the project innovative or unique?
Having been involved in the process of translating the evidence base for effective treatments for mental health into practical resources (mhGAP), it is great to see them being used in practice. In some ways, what it surprising is that this idea is even seen as innovative or new, given that mental health has been identified as a part of total health since the inception of WHO (and before), and as something that should be available in primary health care since the Alma Ata declaration established the principles of primary care 40 years ago! What I am excited about is giving people a choice of quality and accessible care for the first time in many cases.
Have you noticed an impact ‘on the ground’? What is the best feedback you have received (from service users, team members, or otherwise)?
There has been a significant increase in the number of people accessing care, which is the main aim of the programme! We have seen political and health leaders taking an interest in a way they never have before and also communities engaging with the awareness-raising element of the programme.
We need to evaluate the effectiveness of the mhSUN programme and share the lessons learnt about the processes that can improve chances of success, so that we can genuinely scale up access to care across Africa.
What is the one message about depression you want people to take away from your innovation?
Depression can range from relatively mild to very severe and disabling. In all cases though, starting with talking to people, rather than keeping them problem quiet, is the first step to recovery.
For more African innovations featured in this series, please visit the [#WHD2017 Africa Blog Series].