A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film inspired by true events in the life of John Forbes Nash Jr, a Nobel Laureate in Economics who struggled with paranoid schizophrenia.Mental illness is often the elephant in the room, many of us are either too afraid or ignorant in confronting issues around mental illness, yet it affects us daily.

WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?

WHO defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every person realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to his or her community.

Mental illness only happens to “someone else”  or does it? Within the wide spectrum of illnesses that includes Depression, anxiety, Alcohol or substance addictions, Bipolar, Dementia, Insomnia, Schizophrenia just to mention as few, many of us at some point in  life have either struggled or continue to struggle directly from mental illnesses.

 

MENTAL HEALTH FOR ALL IN AFRICA?

There is still stigma attached to suffering from mental illness. Many people suffer in silence out of fear of being shamed, discriminated and or alienated within  communities.

Those who do seek help particularly from an African context face numerous challenges, an example is poor provision.  According to reports in 2015,  Kenya had about 77 psychiatrists which is considered one of the best provisions with one psychiatrist per half a million people. Of the 54 African countries about 7 are without a psychiatrist, 12 without psychologists, 12 without social workers, and 11 without psychiatric nurses.

Between 2016 and 2017 we learnt of the tragedy of about 118 mentally ill patients who died under the care of Life Healthcare Esidimeni in South Africa due to mismanagement, over-crowding, dehydration, lack of food among other findings. That’s one death too many that should have never happened!

Suicide is now considered in the top three causes of death among people aged 15 – 44 years, men commit suicide three times more than women partly due to it being a taboo for a man to openly acknowledge and seek help when for an example struggling with depression. Many African countries still shackle their loved as a way of ‘solving the problem’

Mental health care is still poorly funded, governments pay little to no attention yet it’s very Important to Economic Development.World Mental Health demonstrates clearly that we need to have a vision of development which acknowledges the importance of economic growth, but which also takes seriously the idea that, in the long run, it is only healthy populations that can be economically productive.

Simply put, “health,” either physical or mental, is not formally equal to a luxury item, something to be “afforded” when a society has generated enough “wealth” to pay for it. Health is, instead, an ongoing positive engagement between people, communities, the environment, the state, and the world at large.

ZIMBABWE THINKS OUTSIDE THE BOX  AS IT CONFRONTS DEPRESSION

It’s however not all gloom and doom, they’re many people throughout the world strongly  advocating and developing feasible solutions in helping to bring more awareness & help to communities using both conventional and ‘ out of the box’ methods. In Zimbabwe, the Friendship Bench approach to therapy uses listening and “problem-solving therapy” by trained lay-counselor grandmothers who sit on a bench under a tree to  talk  and offer a safe place for people struggling with anxiety and depression .

Depression is referred to as kufungisisa, “thinking too much,” in the Shona language. It is a world away from conventional approaches to mental healthcare, but the Friendship Bench project has changed the lives of an estimated 27,000 Zimbabweans suffering from depression and other mental disorders. Researchers say the friendship bench may be a blueprint for mental healthcare in developing countries. In Zimbabwe, the programme will now be rolled out to 60 other clinics across the country.

An important milestone in history is when WHO finally Included the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan in 2013 as part of the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) in Africa. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of incommunicable diseases, including behavioral, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development”.