Village Rhapsody: Time to tackle mental health crisis in Zimbabwe

Tackling mental health issues is important for several reasons, first, it improves people’s quality of life.

Mental health is a critical, but often overlooked component of overall health and well-being.

In Zimbabwe, it is estimated that one in four people experience a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

This is a significant number, yet mental health remains a neglected issue in the country.

There is a lack of awareness about mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness that prevents people from seeking help.

This has serious consequences for individuals and society as a whole.

To begin with, mental health refers to our psychological and emotional well-being.

 It includes our ability to handle stress, our relationships with others and ability to make decisions and deal with life’s challenges.

Tackling mental health issues is important for several reasons, first, it improves people’s quality of life.

When people are struggling with mental health, they usually have trouble functioning in everyday life, and are unable to enjoy normal activities.

This may lead to one isolating themselves, feeling hopeless, and depressed.

According to the World Health Organisation, in Zimbabwe the lifetime prevalence of any mental disorder is 26.3%.

The most common mental health disorder is depression (7.5%), anxiety disorder (6.5%), and alcohol use disorder (5.8%).

These numbers show that mental health is a serious issue in the country, and more needs to be done to address it.

Zimbabwe faces significant challenges regarding mental health. The prevalence of mental health issues in Zimbabwe has been influenced by a variety of factors, including socio-economic difficulties, political instability, limited access to healthcare services, and the impact of historical events.

Zimbabwe has experienced long periods of economic instability, which have had a profound effect on the mental well-being of its population.

High unemployment rates, poverty, and limited access to basic necessities can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Furthermore, political instability and social unrest have also played a role in the mental health landscape.

Experiences such as political violence, displacement, and human rights abuses can lead to trauma-related conditions and other mental health challenges.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues is another significant barrier to seeking help in Zimbabwe.

Many individuals and communities may not fully understand mental health, leading to discrimination, social isolation, and reluctance to seek professional assistance.

Access to mental healthcare services is limited, particularly in rural areas where resources are scarce.

There is a shortage of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists, and a lack of funding for mental health programmes.

Mental health issues can have significant economic and social consequences for individuals, families, and society as a whole.

In Zimbabwe, the cost of mental health issues is high as there are limited resources and funding for mental health services which may hinder access to affordable and quality care.

Mental health issues require appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and support services.

The cost of providing mental healthcare, including medication, therapy, and hospitalisation, can place a significant burden on individuals, families, and the healthcare system.

Mental health issues can have far-reaching effects on families and communities.

They may lead to increased caregiver burden, disrupted family dynamics, and strained relationships.

Additionally, individuals with mental health conditions may face social stigma and discrimination, further hindering their ability to participate fully in society.

Mental health problems can lead to decreased productivity and absenteeism in the workplace. Individuals experiencing mental health issues may find it challenging to fulfil their work responsibilities, resulting in reduced output and efficiency.

This can have a direct impact on the overall productivity of businesses and the economy.

A survey conducted by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) revealed that at least 75% of Zimbabwean teachers are experiencing mental health challenges due to poor salaries and working conditions.

The survey showed that all teachers had mentally resigned their jobs although they physically remained at their workplaces.

This shows that there is an urgent need to address mental health issues in our country at all levels possible.

Addressing mental health issues in Zimbabwe can have several significant benefits for individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole, these include,

Improved well-being

Addressing mental health issues promotes overall well-being and quality of life for individuals.

Access to appropriate mental health services can help people manage their symptoms, reduce distress, and enhance their psychological and emotional well-being.

This, in turn, can lead to improved functioning, better relationships, and an increased sense of purpose and fulfilment.

Enhanced productivity

Effective mental health support and treatment can lead to increased productivity and performance in various settings, such as workplaces, schools, and communities. When individuals receive the necessary support and treatment for their mental health concerns, they can better manage their symptoms, focus on their responsibilities, and contribute meaningfully to their respective roles.

Economic benefits

Addressing mental health issues can have positive economic impacts.

By promoting mental well-being and providing appropriate treatment, individuals can maintain employment, thereby reducing productivity losses associated with absenteeism and presenteeism.

Additionally, a mentally healthy population is more likely to engage in economic activities, contribute to economic growth, and reduce the burden on social welfare systems.

Sustainable development

Addressing mental health issues aligns with the principles of sustainable development.

Mental health is a fundamental component of overall health and well-being, and investing in mental health supports the achievement of multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3 on good health and well-being, SDG 4 on quality education, and SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth.

Social cohesion and inclusion

Addressing mental health issues promotes social cohesion and inclusivity.

By reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental health, individuals with mental health conditions are more likely to be accepted, supported, and included in their communities.

This fosters a sense of belonging, social connectedness, and overall community well-being.

Furthermore, implementing specific policy reforms can play a crucial role in addressing mental health issues in Zimbabwe which also include,

Mental health legislation

Developing comprehensive mental health legislation can provide a legal framework for promoting and protecting the rights of individuals with mental health conditions.

This legislation should address issues such as access to mental health services, informed consent, non-discrimination, and the protection of rights in mental health facilities.

Integration of mental health into primary Healthcare

Strengthening the integration of mental health services into primary healthcare can improve accessibility and affordability.

This includes training primary healthcare workers to identify and manage common mental health conditions, establishing referral pathways, and ensuring the availability of essential psychotropic medications at primary healthcare facilities.

Mental health promotion and awareness campaigns

Promoting mental health literacy and raising awareness about mental health issues is crucial for reducing stigma and encouraging help-seeking behaviours.

Implementing targeted awareness campaigns through various channels, including mass media, community outreach, and educational institutions, can help educate the public and reduce misconceptions surrounding mental health.

Workforce development

Investing in the training and development of mental health professionals is essential to strengthen the mental health workforce in Zimbabwe.

This includes increasing the number of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and other mental health professionals, as well as offering ongoing professional development opportunities to enhance their skills and competencies.

Community-based mental health services

Establishing and expanding community-based mental health services can improve access to care, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

This can include the deployment of community mental health workers, who can provide counselling, psycho education, and support to individuals and families within their communities.

Mental health awareness is not just nice to have; it is a necessity for a thriving society.

By taking action to improve mental health awareness in Zimbabwe, we can create a more just and compassionate society.

Let us work together to ensure that everyone has access to ensure that everyone has access to resources and support they need to thrive.

The time to act is now!

*Gary Gerald Mtombeni is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his own personal capacity. For feedback Email [email protected]/ call- +263778861608.

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