Beautiful ambiance, gentle breeze, neat environment, singing birds on lined trees along lush lawns of a large expanse, is a brief description of the entrance of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro, Abeokuta.
The description however fails to suggest to a lay man what business goes on in this beautiful compound though the serenity is key to success of the activities within the facility.
Time was 10.30am on a bright Saturday. The giant gate was opened. Well kitted guards ushered in a coastal bus conveying a group of tourists into the hospital.
The dead silence of the premises was interrupted by the engine roaring through the gate house. Numbering about 30, the travellers were on a study mission to the facility after an earlier permission.
Received by the facilitator of the trip and consultant at the hospital, Dr. Benjamin Olley, the participants’ minds were prepared on what to expect and how to conduct themselves while the visit lasts. Olley, who lectures at the Psychology Department of the premiere University of Ibadan took the students down memory lane. “The Lantoro, Abeokuta annex was the first asylum in Nigeria where soldiers who returned from the World War I were taken for treatment and rehabilitation. It was later upgraded and this hospital was founded here at Aro”.
The university Don continued that “Professor Thomas Adeoye Lambo founded Aro in the 1940s. Lambo, once a Deputy Director at the World Health Organisation (WHO), worked with other scholars including Professor Benjamin Kayode Osuntokun who used to be the Provost of the institution, Professor T. A. Akindele now late, among several others that ensured a good standard which is still being maintained today”.
Conducting the participants round the hospital, Olley briefed them about the management of the institution. “Professor Gboyega Ogunlesi is the current Provost and Aro is the name of the host community, the name does not mean insanity”, he said. The psychologist stated further that “patients are either in-patients who reside in the wards or out-patients who come from their homes for treatment”.
Olley continued that “mental illness is a long time chronic illness and our psychiatric facilities in Nigeria are not adequate”. According to a record available on the internet, 572 patients were treated for depressive illness at Aro in 1980. These included 91 cases in which diagnoses other than depression were initially made due to the overwhelming somatic and psychoneurotic symptoms which totally eclipsed the primary depressive symptoms.
Next, the participants visited the wards housing psychotic patients. Strange to the majority of the visitors, patients in the wards were not in chains as anyone would have imagined and no cage was sighted as patients were seen going about their normal routines, some were even seen playing table tennis.
A nurse on duty in the male ward confirmed that the patients are cooperative and they always maintain peace. “Before you came in, two of them have been given trial leave and are back to their various homes but placed under observation”, she said.
When asked how she would respond to a violent act of any of the patients she said “in case of any violent act, the nurse on duty must move swiftly towards the patient and talk to him. Talk therapy must be the first step before administering any injection if need be”. She added that “other patients in such cases often team up to help the nurses to caution any patient going violent”.
After visiting the ward, participants on the trip attended a training facilitated by clinical psychologists from the hospital. Facilitating the first lecture, Mr. Bayo, a clinical psychologist told the students that “we do the talking therapy here, our job starts where the doctors’ stop”, he said, continuing that “we have the drug abuse unit, we handle schizophrenia and what we have here are bi-polar affective disorder and some other disorders”.
Enlightening the students further, he highlighted five stages of addiction which include exposure stage, experimental stage, regular usage stage, tolerance stage and withdrawal stage, all these stages happen in circles, he said”.
Addressing the students at the second lecture, another clinical psychologist, Mr. Sodehinde also took the students down memory lane, stating that “Aro Neuropsychatric Hospital started operation on the 13th April 1944 at Lantoro, Abeokuta annex which was formerly the Local Government Prisons and after 10 years there was the need to upgrade and the hospital began here at Aro”. Sodehinde stated further that “we gathered that Professor Lambo and his wife planted most of these trees you see here today and in December 1972 this facility was again upgraded to become a World Health Organisation’s Collaborative Centre For Research and Training in Mental Health.
He also listed cases of mental illness. According to the clinical psychologist, mental illness is caused by genetic loading, drug addiction, stress, accidents among other factors. He however advised people to reduce stress by all means.
After a brief objective test conducted by Dr. Olley to test the participants’ knowledge about the visit, the visitors were made to have brief interaction with some of the patients.
The last point of call was the Drug Abuse Treatment Education Research Centre (DATER) section.The phase one of the section handles de-intoxication of patients while the second phase takes care of actual treatment and rehabilitation plan. “Here, we don’t administer drug, we detoxify, treat, rehabilitate and talk to the patients”, said a staff on duty at the DATER section.
After the excursion, Dr. Benjamin Olley encouraged the participants to continue maximizing every opportunity they have to learn. “The difference between achievers and non-achievers is attitude, continue with the attitude and whenever you have the opportunity to learn, maximise and keep it up”, he counseled.
Relaying her experience on the trip, a participant, AduragbemiOdetunde said the trip was worth the while. “My knowledge about clinical psychology was broadened. I have been reading the theoretical aspects but today I had the opportunity to talk with patients to further get enlightened on those symptoms I read about”, she said.
Another participant, AdetutuOyeleke said “the trip is enlightening, I learnt more than what I have been reading about psychosis. I am more exposed on the subject than before”. One other participant who would not forget the experience in a hurry is OlurotimiBalogun. “The trip is an unforgettable experience which encapsulates a lot I have read about psychosis. It offers a practical approach and I specifically gained a lot while we interacted with patients”, Balogun said.
Participants on the trip would have aligned with the saying that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” if they had made real their earlier plan to visit the popular Olumo Rocks. The plan was however aborted since the day was far spent.