The story published this week by NewsDay that said at least 10% Zimbabweans are mentally ill is just but the honest truth.
Saturday Dialogue with Ropafadzo Mapimhidze
I believe the figure could be higher as some mental patients never get medical attention and hence their records remain unknown. Every time I drive around the city, I come across absent-minded pedestrians who have apparently become the greatest danger on roads.
I have sometimes stopped in the middle of the road as pedestrians cross without checking both sides of traffic movement. Motorists are also not an exception.
Cars sped through red traffic lights and when you close up with the driver and tell him what he has done, he expresses shock and surprise.
“I must have been deeply thinking about something,” most of them will say. Depression, as Health minister David Parirenyatwa noted, is the major reason that is causing mental illness in Zimbabwe.
There are people I see talking to invisible people as they walk along pavements in the city and you can also tell that the person is immersed in some deep thoughts.
Factors that have influenced the increase in mental illness include the harsh economic situation, unemployment, poverty, and change in disease pattern . . . especially for people living with HIV and natural disasters.
Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else”. In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and behaviour, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.
There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness with some of the more common disorders which are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.
Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and social withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, HIV and Aids or even heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological.
Despite the different symptoms and types of mental illnesses, many families who have a loved one suffering from a mental illness, share similar experiences.
You may find yourself denying the warning signs, worrying what other people will think because of the stigma, or wondering what caused that person to become ill.
The tragedy however befalling Zimbabwe is that specialist treatment for mental patients is limited to a few hospitals and whilst these people may present depression symptoms, most health professionals rarely pick signs of mental distress when patients visit general practitioners.
Even after treatment has started, some individuals with a mental illness can exhibit anti-social behaviours especially when they are in public, which can be disruptive and difficult to comprehend.
Just this week, a member of our church lost an aunt who was hacked with an axe in Mhondoro by a nephew who was mentally disturbed.
He is currently in police custody as investigations progress.
This young man was on medication, but it is not clear whether he was taking these drugs consistently although someone would get them every month for him and take them to Mhondoro.
It is incumbent upon relatives that live with such people to ensure that mental patients take these drugs religiously because once they stop abruptly, the consequences can be regrettable.
One young man, who spent year at a university in the US, burnt their family home in Bulawayo and he watched with so much pleasure as the house got razed to the ground.
The young person is said to have laughed hysterically as though it was funny, as the fire ripped through the house. Firefighters arrived too late . . . all property was destroyed.
He was taken to a mental hospital in the city but was later transferred to yet another section of the hospital located within some prison complex because he had become too violent.
Then there is a teenager who was impregnated by her brother in law, delivered her healthy baby which was immediately taken away from her by her sister resulting in severe depression that landed her in a mental hospital.
Zimbabwe is no doubt a country of depressed people who are desperate for a solution to their economic problems.
Many parents are failing to send their children to school, especially those seeking university education, leaving these young people engaging in anti-social behaviours like taking drugs.
This group apparently constitutes the majority of young people that are in mental hospitals because they became hopeless and seek solace in intoxicating drugs.
I once visited ward 13 of Parirenyatwa Hospital about two years where I was visited a relative that was an inmate there.
As I was talking to the inmates there, I discovered that there were so many learned people who were booked in this ward. Of particular interest was an inmate who was very fluent in English who actually was a holder of two masters’ degrees.
Culturally, mental illness is blamed on evil spirits and hence most people end up not receiving proper medical attention as family members consult traditional healers and white garment prophets.
I, however, totally agree with the 2007 World Health Organisation report that claimed that 40 percent Zimbabweans suffered various degrees of mental illness caused by the nose diving economic situation.
Suicides amongst the youths have also increased because of the frustrations they are facing in an economy that has absolutely nothing to offer them.
I have no doubt that Zimbabwe too many people are depressed and unknowingly suffering various degrees of mental illness.
Something has to be done fast to reverse the fortunes of this country so that citizens become hopeful about their future.