Calls to strengthen access to mental health care amid Covid-19

24 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
Calls to strengthen access to mental health care amid Covid-19

The Sunday News

Locadia Mavhudzi, Midlands Correspondent
THE Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous toll on people’s mental health, awakening calls for government and donors to take concrete steps to develop rights-respecting and community-based mental health services.

Queen of Peace Mental Health and Rehabilitation Center in Gweru experienced a heightened burden of care during the past two years increasing their live- in patients from 30 to 75.

Founder and Executive Director of Queen of Peace Mental Health and Rehabilitation Center, Mrs Stella Khumalo said 2021 had been a difficult year for the institution as they were handling mental health crisis issues emanating from the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown.

“Covid-19 has awakened the need for increased counselling and psychotherapy services in community. As people were spending more time together during lockdown, gender-based violence cases increased which meant more people needed mental stabilisation services.

Children with mental health challenges were worst affected and had post-traumatic stress disorders which we were handling through referrals.”

Mrs Khumalo said Covid-19 induced mental health crisis as people grapple with fear and anxiety over their lives and livelihoods.

“The pandemic has engulfed us as an emergency issue associated with death, job losses and fear of the unknown. As such at one point, everyone was affected. At one point we had up to 75 live-in clients, a majority of them being homeless people under the age of 18 who were rounded off from the streets during the tight lockdown period.”

Mrs Khumalo said there was need to scale up knowledge and awareness of mental health and how it perpetuates.

“It is important to understand mental health in its rightful essence. It is not psychiatry. In our African perspective, mental health is associated with misfortune and bewitchment yet the number one cause of mental health challenges is stress.

We need to dispel those myths and stigma especially amongst young children so that we create an informed generation.”

She said the center, though it was offering critical mental health services, and livelihood projects it does not have capacity to expand services beyond Gweru.

“There is need to invest in capacitating people with mental health challenges to be able to become responsible citizens. People with mental health challenges must not always be institutionalised but once they receive stabilisation care, must be able to be reintegrated back into society.

They also have their own strengths and capabilities which when harnessed can make them prosper in life. Students from our institution perform at national Paralympic games and they do very well,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ingutsheni Central Hospital, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Nemache Mawere said creating space and platforms for people to openly discuss mental health problems would help tackle the challenges, potentially saving lives.

“I feel access points of engagement are not fully utilised from the community through to specialist services. Lack of awareness and stigma causes delay or even not seeking treatment hence the apparent high morbidity.

When clinical treatment is supplemented with social support, the likelihood of successful outcomes is greater, and houses of worship often provide built-in social networks.

It’s important for communities to harness the role of the Church as a haven of stabilising the mind through spiritual, emotional and social support for their communities.

“Many religious people see their spiritual health and mental health as intertwined, and research indicates that spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation can also support mental health,” said Dr Mawere.

Midlands State University, Child Law lecturer, Mrs Loveness Mapuwa said deprivation of children from school environment also increased their vulnerability to mental health disorders.

“Deprived of protective school environments and given the increased stress and economic pressure in families, children are at heightened risk of experiencing violence and exploitation, including child marriage and child labour.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), continued isolation from other people and a person’s existing support structure has a severe impact on and act as aggressors for mental disorders.

Research shows that one in seven youths in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing a mental health condition. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.

Research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), titled The State of the World’s Children 2021

On My Mind Promoting, Protecting and Caring for Children’s Mental Health, which was released recently, listed Zimbabwe as one of the leading five countries out of 21, whose young people suffer from depression.

World Mental Health Awareness Day is celebrated every 10 October and this year it was held under the theme “There is hope after a diagnostic of a mental illness. Let’s seek care.”

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