OCTOBER 10 has been set aside by WHO as the World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

The day seeks to provide a platform for stakeholders working on mental health issues to raise awareness about their work, and what needs to be done to make mental health care a reality.

This year, the day ran under the theme: ‘Making Mental Health and Well-being for All a Global Priority’.

WHO conceptualises mental health as a “…state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

In a statement, WHO urged stakeholders to actively participate in raising awareness on mental health. 

“We must deepen the value and commitment we give to mental health as individuals, communities and governments and match that value with more commitment, engagement and investment by all stakeholders, across all sectors,” read part of the statement.

“We must strengthen mental health care so that the full spectrum of mental health needs is met through a community-based network of accessible, affordable and quality services and supports.”

Zimbabwe has not been left behind in raising awareness on mental health with experts, however, saying more needs to be done to ensure communities are aware of mental health issues.

Clinical psychologist intern Regina Banda said communities had not fully comprehended the concept of mental health hence the need for continued advocacy.

“In some instances, communities do not fully understand what mental health or mental illness comprises as some believe it is a completely social aspect that is characterised by supernatural causes and infliction,” she said. 

“Some believe it is caused by angry ancestors who need to be appeased. For instance, we speak of ngozi in Shona culture and some people believe humans caused them by indulging in rituals like kuromba.

“Some do understand it is a natural form of illness that is the same as any physical illness. There are still beliefs that the absence of mental illness logically entails someone is mentally healthy which is not how professionals view it as we view mental illness and mental health on a continuum.”

Banda said society used blanket terms for mental illness such as ‘kupenga’ in Shona yet there were many different types of mental illnesses.

The use of negative blanket terms has resulted in the increase in stigma and discrimination of people experiencing mental health disorders.

“Stigma and discrimination arise from a lack of knowledge as what people do not understand makes them defensive and scared,” said Banda.

“People need to be educated and influential people in society, like teachers, traditional healers, spiritual healers and political leaders, must be persuaded to work together and to preach the correct information about mental illness.

“Affected people and families need to be assisted in building resilience against stigma because it is real and this can be done through creation of support groups so that people know they are not alone.

“Mental illness needs to be normalised and there is need to remove the notion that whoever is sick is to blame for their Illness.”

Banda said there was need for relevant stakeholders to roll out awareness campaigns on mental health.

“Campaigns in schools and colleges need to be done as there is a lot of substance abuse going on and kids are facing many problems that cause common illnesses, like depression and anxiety,” she said. 

“Educational campaigns to the general public nurses, general practitiones, spiritual and traditional healers also need to be carried out.

“Guided by research findings, researchers need to present their findings to policymakers, school authorities and civil society organisations so that the needs of the public are known.”

Banda said Government should continue to review its policies to ensure mental health issues are incorporated.

“In Africa, the main concentration is mainly on communicable diseases. Although this priority is shifting, it is not shifting fast enough,” said Banda.

“Budgets still do not prioritise mental health and we, as professionals, at times do not fully understand mental illness issues unless we are specialised in it, which creates a huge gap.”

Institutions in training mental health practitioners need to prioritise and emphasise mental health and mental illness issues so that practitioners are fully aware of holistic health matters regardless of their field of expertise, said Banda.

“Talking about Mental Health issues needs to be normalised across generations from the young to the old,” she said.

“Children, from an early age, need to be taught about mental well-being. 

“In Africa, we have traditional and spiritual beliefs that may prohibit consultation in the mainstream medical fraternity because people may believe the cause of the illness is extra terrestrial and requires traditional healers and spiritual healers only. 

“Some may stop taking medication and coming for treatment which worsens the situation and, as such, all practitioners need to be educated on what mental illness really is so that proper referrals are made.”

Banda said there is need to increase advocacy and awareness campaigns so that the knowledge gap that exists in both the populations and the practitioners is addressed. 

“Research is also needed so that solutions are tailor-made to fit the populations because people have different needs,” she said.

“Research serves to give the much needed information of what services need to be provided.”

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