1,3m Zimbabweans are mentally ill – WHO
AN estimated 1,3 million Zimbabweans – about 10% of the country’s 14 million population – are struggling with mental health problems, data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated.
The figure has largely been attributed to the economic crisis Zimbabwe has battled for more than a decade, leaving industries collapsed and joblessness estimated at more about 90%.
The vitual collapse of the economy has also spiked social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse at a time when mental health centres are woefully short of critical drugs due to poor funding by the government.
WHO representative in Zimbabwe, David Okello, recently described the mental health situation in the country as a “crisis”.
“We have a crisis in Zimbabwe. The truth is, no one is invincible, no one can say they are immune to mental illness,” said Okello.
According to WHO, the country has only 14 psychiatrists to look after the 1, 3 million mental patients, translating to one specialist for 100,000 patients.
There are also only 20 clinical psychologists employed at nine public mental health institutions in the country.
A local psychiatrist said the shortage of drugs and staff facing mental health patients poses serious risks to their health and lives.
“Due to a shortage of psychotic drugs, patients suffer from severe mental distress, causing multiple relapses of the disorder after they are discharged from health centres,” he said adding many patients were, as a result, suffering in silence as they are unable to access treatment.
Okello urged people not to shun mental ill patients and also appealed to the government not to incarcerate mental patients.
“You should not throw away your relatives; mental health is not a contagious disease. We also need to appeal to decision-makers, that prisons are not meant for mental patients,” said Okello.
Zimbabwe has two prison institutions for mentally ill offenders; Mlondolozi in Bulawayo and Chikurubi in Harare.
There are also four referral centres, Ingutsheni Central Hospital in Bulawayo, Harare Psychiatric Unit, Parirenyatwa Hospital Annexe and Ngomahuru Hospital in Masvingo.