On Sunday 10 October, Mental Health Awareness Day was globally marked under the theme ‘Access to Mental Health in an Unequal World’. For too long, the significance of mental health and needs of people suffering from mental illnesses have been neglected, compared to that of physiological health.
In fact, both mental health and physical conditions are equally crucial to people’s overall health and functioning.
Mental health is basically our state of well-being – people’s ability to cope with everyday normal life stressors, their functioning in a workplace productively and fruitfully as well as their capacity to recognise their skills and their ability to contribute to their communities. Mental illnesses/disorders are clinically diagnosed conditions that affect people’s thinking, emotions and behaviour grossly, and as a result impairs these individuals’ personal, occupational and social functioning, significantly.
With an onset of a mental illness, and without proper and necessary treatment that is bio-psychosocial in approach – involving medication, talk therapy and support, most people diagnosed with mental illnesses cannot engage in daily activities, such as brushing their teeth, going to work, and often experience a breakdown of relationships. Mental illnesses that are commonly diagnosed are depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia and require psychologists, psychiatrists, and medical doctors to make these diagnoses.
Important to note is that there’s a difference between mental health and mental illness – the former is the state of well-being and the latter an illness.
However, anyone can suffer from poor mental health, including people who society considers “normal people”, the ones without mental illnesses. Poor mental health is now more than ever apparent in our communities, as the Covid-19 pandemic has affected many people negatively, including children. The pandemic has elicited fear and has driven people into isolation, and cost some people their livelihood. As a result, there may be new cases of anxiety and depression.
An article published by News 24 in 2015 indicated that Namibia was treating 8 000 cases of different mental illnesses. However, as a country, we lack empirical statistical research that could show the true reflection of mental illness cases.
Therefore, it is possible that more people than the reported number above are suffering from mental illnesses taking into consideration those that ha,ve not sought help and thus have undiagnosed mental illnesses.
Additionally, an article published by The Namibian in 2018 reported that there was a shortage of psychotropic medication at the Windhoek Mental Health Unit, which has resulted in many patients being turned away untreated.
Namibia as a nation is deprived when it comes to access to mental health facilities, as opposed to primary healthcare centres such as clinics and hospitals. The country only has two state mental health services, the Mental Health Unit in Windhoek at the Windhoek Central Hospital, and Ward 16 in Oshakati, of which the latter is not a fully-fledged mental health facility, unlike the Windhoek Mental Health Unit. According to the WHO’s profile countries 2011, the bed availability in these two facilities are also limited as there are only 192 beds, with 112 beds at the Windhoek Mental Health Unit and 80 beds at the Oshakati Psychiatry Ward 16, respectively.
The State budget allocated to mental health is limited and further creates the gap in accessing mental health services for people in other regions, which results in placing demand on the two facilities available.
In conclusion, physical conditions and mental health conditions are interrelated. People with physical conditions, such as HIV, cancer and other medical conditions including physical disabilities, are likely to suffer from poor mental health and mental illnesses; and those with mental illnesses can also experience somatic conditions. Therefore, it’s imperative when providing services pertaining to the health of the nation that physical and mental conditions are investigated parallel, and funded accordingly.