Theddeus Iheanacho, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and Charles Dike, also an associate professor of psychiatry at the medical school, are both natives of the Imo State in Nigeria. There are no psychiatric hospitals across the 2,135-square-mile territory, and the state counts only one full-time psychiatrist to serve its nearly 5 million residents.
The two scholars are mounting an effort to improve mental health care in their homeland. In 2018, the HAPPINESS (Health Action for Psychiatric Problems in Nigeria including Epilepsy and Substances) Project was established to train primary care workers in Imo State to screen for, assess, and treat mental health conditions like depression, psychosis, and anxiety.
The program initially taught more than three dozen healthcare workers how to integrate mental health services into routine primary care. The goal is to expand the program to all primary care facilities in Imo State, and eventually to other Nigerian states.
“Most of these people would otherwise not have access to treatment or else would have traveled five or six hours to get it,” explains Dr. Dike, who completed his psychiatric residency at the University of Birmingham in England. “Anything we can do to push the needle, even if we can only get 100 people into care, it’s worth it.”