October the tenth is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Day by the World Health Organization (WHO). Do you know how serious this is for it to have a day?
Tenth September is recognized as Suicide Awareness Day, but I bet a lot of people aren’t aware of this because nobody truly believes someone out there could be gravely ill in the mind.
The first time I came across someone with a mental health problem, and was actually quite aware of their state of mind, was Eeyore – the donkey from Winnie the Pooh. I was only a child at the time, and I had no idea that people could be ill in the mind. However, I was very aware that Eeyore displayed characteristics of a constant and overwhelming sadness. For some reason, I found the perspective of someone being that constantly gloomy a bit unusual but I didn’t think much of it.
Although I never really figured out if Eeyore was actually clinically depressed or not, the truth is, someone being that sad constantly is “unusual”. It is a sign of a mental health problem. Sadly, just like how I brushed it off as a child, society brushes such signs off as well.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely absence of disease or infirmity. That definition shows that mental health is an intrinsic part of general well-being. Sadly, most people associate health with a physical state and completely disregard mental and social disorders. Moreover, mental illnesses are only viewed to be very serious when a person reaches a stage of chronic madness in most cases. People also seem to not acknowledge mental problems to be issues such as depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviours. Again, my mind goes to Eeyore. How many people have possibly been blanked as fine just because they were not showing signs of some rampant lunacy, but were going through some troubling mental turmoil even though displaying signs of “normal” human behaviour?
A report by WHO goes on to state that one in every four people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point of their life. Therefore, about 25% of the general population will suffer from a mental health problem at any given time. It also mentions that after cancer and cardiovascular disease, mental illnesses make up the largest group of disorders.
The Managing Editor at Malawi Medical Journal, Thengo Kavinya, highlights some of these issues in one of his articles, and goes on to say it is very difficult for somebody to finish their journey without experiencing problems with their mental state. This means that at least at one time in our lives we all go through periods of being as Eeyore.
With such shocking statistics, it’s worrying that Malawi, as of 2016, had only 0.3% mental health facilities. This is according to Improving-access-to-mental-health-services-in-Malawi, a report by Micheal Udedi who is an Assistant Director of Clinical Services at Ministry of Health. His report goes on to highlight many more shocking figures such as the doctor to patient ratio which was 0.01 psychiatrists to 100, 000 patients as of 2016 as well as the 400 person holding capacity at the only state owned mental hospital in Zomba.
To add more insult to injury, in 2013, one of the country’s clinical psychologists, Chiwoza Bandawe commented the highest incidents of mental illnesses occur in lower and middle income countries such as Malawi.
Malawi is a rather large population of more than 17 million people. This means that if 25% of the population has a mental health problem at any given time then about 4,250,000 people at the moment are going through mental turmoil.
Such figures make one wonder why the government as well as the community at large pays very little attention to the state of mind of people. Why are there very few mental health practitioners and even fewer competent ones? Why aren’t mental health care services more integrated into primary health care? Why is there such widespread social stigma, ignorance and indifference towards people suffering from mental problems? Most importantly, why is nobody talking about it?