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Zimbabwe mental health concerns continue

by Julie Bowen
17 Jul 2013 at 12:15hrs | Views

A Growing Issue

Following on from earlier reports which documented an unprecedented rise in mental health incidents in Zimbabwe, further attention has been drawn to the matter, which has already been causing worry throughout the South Eastern African nation. Earlier reports which were sourced from the Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health; and subsequently revealed by several prominent news outlets both in and out of country, have indicated a rising prevalence in mental health concerns in the country, with more and more patients being diagnosed amidst worries that there is a drastic shortage of suitable drugs.

This increase in mental health cases throughout the country, which individually can range anywhere from mild and increasingly common depression to high levels of uncontrollable anxiety and borderline manic episodes likely to be brought on by the likes of post-traumatic stress, is widely considered to be reflective of the current instability being endured by many Zimbabweans. Most medical professionals in the country have expressed their individual concerns on the matter, with the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Henry Madzorera, disclosing recently that public and private hospitals across the country had both recorded a notable rise in the amount of mental health incidents, and in turn patients being treated. While more populous areas such as Bulawayo and Harare are deemed as the worst hit by the stats which have emerged recently, the rise appears to be proportionate across the rest of the country, with a high prevalence of afflictions being recorded amongst people of all age groups.

A Sign of the Times

Just as speculation is pointed in the direction of growing economic pressures when confronting many of the world's currently prominent issues, in this instance it is no different.

On the subject of an increase in prospective patients visiting doctors, both traditional and modern, as a result of concerns for their mental health, President of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association, Gordon Chavunduka stated in an interview with The Zimbabwean: "every day there are new people displaying clear signs of mental disorders. Definitely the figures are rising. While some believe it is evil spirits, most of them are from poor backgrounds and complain of stress and depression, perhaps owing to economic hardships."

This distinction is one that is growing as the problem in Zimbabwe becomes more and more visible, with the ever-important division between traditional and modern medicine being the least of most peoples worries at present.

While many would maintain that the state of the nation's economy has in fact stabilised over the course of the past three or four decades, a continued and prolonged international isolation of sorts has undoubtedly and drastically affected Zimbabwe's potential for import/export profitability, leading to unavoidable economic strife in already poor areas of the country.

An Uncertain Future

Perhaps the most unsettling feature of this revelation is that it has announced itself at a time when public mental hospitals are least able to deal with its consequences. ­Whilst public health services as a whole have been struggling recently, mental health facilities in particular are feeling the full weight of this rise in psychiatric patients.

The country's primary national referral centre for patients of this kind, the Ingutsheni Central Hospital in Bulawayo, has already reaffirmed the problems it is having in dealing with an increased influx of patients, citing shortages in the likes of clothes, food, medical supplies as well as increasingly limited support from official donor organisations as the problem.

Dr Madzorera said: "Aid organisations, both international and local, often work on HIV/AIDS, but it is rare to see organisations who are interested in helping the mentally challenged members of our communities who are suffering across the country."

With this, it can be noted how Zimbabwe's prior inexperience and education on an issue as important as mental health may come into play to an extent. With a national mental health policy which was drawn up in 2004 yet to be fully implemented, it is widely speculated that budgetary allocation restrictions in this sector may be accountable for the increasing problem.

Director of the Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health, Elizabeth Matare, fully concurs with such a notion, stating: "the policy (national mental health, 2004) has largely remained a statement of intention on the part of the ministry of health. We would like to see the policy put into action- Zimbabwe has a long history of coming up with acts and working documents that are never implemented."

Source - Julie Bowen