Source: Mental illness upsurge reflective of stressed society – NewsDay Zimbabwe August 6, 2016
I RECENTLY read an article that said that a staggering four million people living in Zimbabwe are suffering from mental illness and I cannot agree more.
Saturday Dialogue with Ropafadzo Mapimhidze
When you drive along the roads especially in the central business district of Harare, it is amazing to see the high number of men who walk the streets talking to people and sometimes laughing out loudly.
In fact, the most dangerous traffic on our roads today is the human traffic which motorists have to look out for.
I personally dread driving through this part of the city because the thought of hitting and causing death to a pedestrian is something that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
This is something I keep reminding my youngest daughter who is new to the wheel that hitting a pedestrian is the worst experience for a motorist especially if that a involves a child.
The online article noted that as the economy continues to tumble, many Zimbabweans are now unknowingly suffering from mental illnesses that could only get worse, a leading a psychiatrist has warned.
It quoted David Mukwekwezeke, a senior resident medical officer at Parirenyatwa Hospital, who said in an opinion piece that although the incidence may be purely coincidental, medical research corroborates the rise in mental illness.
According to 2015 Ministry of Health statistics, there are approximately 91 390 mentally ill patients in Zimbabwe.
The country has two dedicated mental hospitals in Zimbabwe, Ingutsheni in Bulawayo and Ngomahuru in Masvingo, with other hospitals having units for mentally ill patients.
Stress-related illnesses like depression are also on the rise with many people now taking medication like the popular pink pill called Amitriptyline, which is taken to control this condition.
Amitriptyline can have a sedating effect, which means that it may be useful for treating depression in people who are also anxious and agitated, or who are suffering from disturbances in sleep.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.
More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment.
Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychological counselling or both.
But this condition when left uncontrolled can lead to many anti-social behaviours like drug abuse and sometimes suicide.
If you look around you, whether at work, on the kombi, market, church, meetings or your neighbourhood, you will come across a number of people who think life has dealt them a big bad blow.
Some become aggressive and are always angry about anything like this person I know who has changed from the bubbly individual he used to be and has become a nasty person because he snaps at anyone for no apparent reason.
The other problem is that in the African context and especially in Zimbabwean culture, depression is viewed as a demonic affliction or something to do with a bad omen cast on a person.
And yet the real reason why more and more people are depressed today is that they feel hopeless and helpless about the situations they are in like marriage or joblessness.
Such people normally look sad and disoriented and hence sometimes cross the road without looking and land under the wheels of a startled motorist who now has to start the long process of reporting to the police and in some instances meeting the family of the dead or injured person.
I have also observed many absent-minded motorists and I have no doubt they too may be undergoing some form of depression or undiagnosed mental illness.
“It is blatantly clear that the economic hardships, pervasive comments by the ruling elite and a multitude of other events currently happening are psychological stressors which continue to replicate in our psyche both collective and individual and this will ultimately lead to deregulation of mood, thought and /or behaviour,” Mukwekwezeke noted in the article.
The story noted that last year, government launched a four-year strategic plan that seeks, among other things, to guide the implementation of the Mental Health Policy of 2004 by harmonising activities and improving the provision of drugs.
Mukwekwezeke continued and said that there are revelations by seasoned psychiatrist Dickson Chibanda which indicate that about five million Zimbabweans or 40% of the population suffer from some form of mental illness, compared to 1, 3 million in 2015.
He added that coupled with the poor state of mental health services in a country, with less than 10 psychiatrists, the country is headed towards a collapse as some leaders also exhibit signs of mental illness.
At the launch of the four-year strategic plan, Health minister David Parirenyatwa said economic hardships and drug abuse had pushed up the incidence of mental illnesses.
I also recently spoke to a former mental patient who lives in Eastlea who said contrary to what the general population believes, drug abuse and mental illness also affect the affluent people in a very big way.
The young man said he started abusing drugs at parties and ended up being sodomised. He has been to virtually all mental hospitals including South Africa but said he decided to read the Bible and that made him kick the habit.
“I am a very educated person with two university degrees, I come from a very well-to-do family, but drugs really destroyed a good six years of my life. I was depressed because I had no job, and that really frustrated me and I ended up living on the streets with street people like a junkie. Some people you see on the street are not mentally ill, but they feel hopeless and takedrugs to give them temporary joy,” he said.
But drug abuse becomes a habit that results in mental illness in a country where there is a limited number of psychiatrists with Ingutsheni Hospital in Bulawayo only having one doctor instead of eight, Ngomahuru in Masvingo having none but requiring five doctors while Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Harare Central Hospital, which are supposed to have 20, only have 10 psychiatrists.
But how does one get out of the present economic problems which have left many breadwinners jobless, homeless and hopeless?