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Addressing mental health issues

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With Lorraine Lusinje

A few days ago, I got a news alert from Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS). It read: Zomba Mental Hospital registering over 300 cases of young people for substance abuse and depression every month. I was dismayed with the statistics but not surprised. As they say, facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. Mental problems are a common and pertinent issue and they will not cease to impact the well-being of people and communities just because we choose to undermine them.

A human being is made of several faculties that include the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual. We are essentially able to operate in everyday life because of the way these faculties come together and function as one body. Our mental faculties play a huge role in our work, school, conduct and interactions with others. One would think mental health would be given the same priority or superior priority to physical health, since, sometimes, it is our mental states that culminate in our physical illnesses. But that is not what happens.

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All over the world, mental health problems are a common human experience. Mental health issues range from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Mental health experiences can be upsetting, confusing and frightening for the patient but, unfortunately, we are too quick to persecute people suffering from various mental health issues without understanding them or the condition. In the country, Zomba Mental Hospital is synonymous with madness; the assumption that the facility is a sanctuary for deranged people. But the facility is meant to serve beyond that and deranged people should not be judged for their conditions but supported to rehabilitate themselves where possible.

What was worrisome about the statistics from ZBS is that it is young people involved. Young people are the future leaders of the country and great attention needs to be placed in mitigating issues that can hinder the growth of these future leaders. I do not believe that, as a country, we have come to a point where we appreciate the depth of mental health problems and recognise the importance of them being addressed.

Worse in the current fast world with free flow of information through the internet, where there is more exposure to information that can negatively affect people young and even old mentally. This means that more effort needs to be put now into addressing general mental health. There are a lot of initiatives that ensure physical safety, preventive measures to avoid disease and interventions to address diseases and physical challenges but not the same can be said for mental health.

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Most people are afraid of seeking help because the fear stigma. There are actually many people who think depression is not a problem or is non-existent to a point that they are dismissive and condescending to those that are suffering from depression or to those that are working at addressing the issues. However, as said earlier, facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored; ignored mental problems lead to more complex problems in the long run; suicide, relationship problems, divorces, leadership problems, dangerous addictions, violence, economic problems, political unrest and social problems.

We need to get to a point where mental health becomes an integral part of our livelihoods. In our homes, mental health should be monitored and addressed. We should support our friends and families as they go through different seasons in life. Parents should make sure they keep in sync with their children to notice red flags that can point to mental unrest. Spouses should not downplay their partners’ mental states in times of stress and trauma.

Human Resource departments should be complemented by psychologists and general wellbeing experts. School administration departments should have resident psychologists that are part of assessment teams for students. I remember, while in college, a very traumatic event happened; a student died on campus. The mental picture is gruesome and hard to forget for many who witnessed the event. However, the matter was not addressed; no comfort and assurance were given and students went on being traumatised and frightened. Situations like that can sometimes imprint fear and anxiety in people forever because they were not addressed and this can affect their adult lives. Let us not ignore important mental issues.

Mental health matters.

I rest my case.

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