Why mental health cases are on the rise

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THE current rise in mental health cases which the country is grappling to contain has been attributed to increasing abuse of drugs and alcohol.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, 45 percent of all mental cases are triggered by drug and alcohol abuse.
Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and especially environmental factors.
A 2016 study by the Medical Research Council of Zimbabwe shows that drug and alcohol abuse is the leading cause of mental disorders among people admitted in psychiatric hospitals.
Alcohol abused accounted for 24 percent (illicit alcohol) and 56 percent (beer).
After alcohol, there is the most commonly used substances which include tobacco products (47 percent), marijuana (39 percent) and cough syrups (22 percent).
Other substances abused include BronCleer, commonly known as ‘bronco’, maragadu (chlorpromazine tablets), and diazepam (MaDembare) ‘musombodhiya’, steroids, tegu-tegu and another illicit brew, Zed.
BronCleer contains codeine, an effective pain killer similar to the prescribed drug, morphine.
The negative effects of an overdose of codeine phosphate include difficulty in breathing, restlessness, vomiting, low blood pressure and in some cases, death.
Although bronco is banned in Zimbabwe, it continues to be smuggled into the country.
Marijuana, cannabis or mbanje is a dried leaf, flower, stem or seed from the hemp plant.
According to scientific studies, the marijuana plant contains mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and other compounds.
According to medical experts, the drugs interfere with the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive and process information.
There are at least two ways that drugs are able to do this, by imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers or overstimulating the reward circuit of the brain.
Drugs, such as marijuana have a similar structure to chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain.
Because of this similarity, these drugs are able to ‘fool’ the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages.
This disruption produces a greatly amplified message that ultimately disrupts normal communication patterns, hence if abused they can cause a huge disruption to the brain leading to mental health disorders.
Mental health disorders comprise a broad range of problems, with different symptoms generally characterised by a combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.
Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.
Some of the most common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and intellectual disabilities.
Drug abuse is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug-seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental health or behaviour disorder.
About 32 percent of patients had a WHO audit score greater than or equal to eight, indicating an alcohol disorder.
A local psychiatrist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said mental health continues to receive very little attention and was not high on the list of priorities for policymakers.
“Mental health facilities are scarce in both rural and urban areas,” said the Harare-based psychiatrist.
“There is a chronic shortage of psychiatric doctors, nurses and other trained mental health professionals. Most qualified doctors are leaving the country in search of better pay and working conditions abroad.
“Working conditions need to be improved and policymakers, it seems, do not care about mental health issues until someone close to them is affected that they appreciate the role of psychiatric services.”

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