Mental health continued

Gamuchirai Chinamasa

Continuing with the fight against mental health in Africa there is medication now for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar amongst many other disorders. Drugs are not always needed, but when they are they aren’t easily accessible or affordable, most medical aids won’t even cover them fully if at all therefore making it unattainable in fighting mental health. Access to this medication in Africa is very limited, as governments cannot afford to purchase them thus resulting in patients not being medicated or patients turning to supernatural ways to deal with their issues, be it them or their family members.

Rehabilitation and medication for mental health disorders is very expensive, therefore leaving only middle class and upward being able to afford it, hence the saying that it is “a white man’s disease.” Some medical aids don’t cover therapy let alone medication when needed or scans when required, the shortfalls one has to pay, you may as well pay full price as there is no difference. Sometimes the shortage of the medication is an issue since they are usually made abroad and during the pandemic I cannot imagine what pharmacists and patients went through because of lockdown or borders closing. It is vital that each country begins to manufacture their own medication to combat this issue.

There are not enough studies being dome in Africa about mental health in order to know what is lacking and how to deal with the problem. Mental health is usually ignored or side-lined, therefore, leading to a lack of resources and studies about it. Researchers, writers and mental health advocates often do not get the encouragement they need and deserve to do their work. The gap in awareness in regard to mental health issues shows the need for massive research funding in this area. Research that will bring solutions and highlight the key issues in each community. The training of medical students should include information and skills in mental health to show the importance of mental disorders in the work of physicians and not leave it to just those specializing in psychiatry.

Mental health in Africa is widely misunderstood, underrated and very stereotypical. Because of our different religious beliefs and practices, it becomes very difficult to get those treated by doctors that know more. Certain religions don’t even allow for their congregation to seek medical help for general medical conditions, what more mental health.

The Covid19 pandemic exposed how poor the health system is when it comes to fighting mental health. The pandemic exposed a lot of mental health issues amongst almost everyone. The pandemic has shown how there is need to invest in mental health care and institutions. In Zimbabwe alone there is no more than 20 psychiatrists who have to deal with millions of patients. This doesn’t make sense at all and worse who is helping these psychiatrists get through each week knowing how draining it is to have to deal with different emotions and patients day in and day out?

In Zimbabwe there are six public institutions with psychiatric beds: Harare Hospital Psychiatric Unit, Parirenyatwa Hospital Annexe, Ingutsheni Hospital, Mpilo Hospital Psychiatric Unit, Ngomahuru Hospital and Mutare Hospital Sakubva Unit. In addition, three facilities provide forensic psychiatry services: Mlondolozi Special Institution, Harare Central Prison and Chikurubi Special Institution. The facilities available are not suitable for children or the elderly. Parirenyatwa Hospital Annexe and Harare Hospital Psychiatric Unit are the only institutions with a psychiatrist. These places don’t have the right facilities to take on this battle, cleanliness is lacking so is space and the right treatments. A psychiatric unit is not just a room or place you lock up someone and think they will get better, they need therapy, medication, exercises, love and doctor car, this should not be a prison or form of isolation because one will surely go crazy. I have heard many clients say they would rather die than go to Annex, they felt the one time they went there they came out worse, so it is not the doctors that failed but it’s the environment and the system that does not give enough funding and attention to these places.

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