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Opinion - The state of mental health in Namibia

2021-11-05  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The state of mental health in Namibia
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I am not an expert in this subject, but please allow me to utter a word or two. It is really sad that it has now become a weekly, if not a daily thing, where we hear or read of a mental health-related death in the tabloids or TV news, and one can’t help it but wonder what might be the root cause of this unpleasant trend. Yet, this is one of the topics that are always thrown under the carpet.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. 

I must start by saying that during these trying times of a global pandemic, it is prevalent that mental health cases might sky rocket, due to many different types of pressures thumbing on the world. 

The pandemic is only one of the causes – and many others are out there.

The Namibia National Health Framework of 2010-2020, under Chapter 4.7, clearly outlines the plan of action to be taken by the ministry of health to ensure the full implementation of its mandate, and some of its strategic response directions are to emphasise on prevention of mental health problems through a multi-sectoral effort. 

In addition, the policy also seeks to create awareness, creation and advocacy for the plight of people with mental health problems, training and deployment of a minimum of specialised human resources and strengthening of specialised referral services for mental health (MOHSS, 2010). 

If Namibia has such a clear and sound policy on how to prevent or respond to this predicament, where have we gone wrong for us to have arrived at this current status quo? 

I personally think it all comes down to the issue of the implementation of the policy as far as mental health is concerned. 

In other words, as stakeholders, we are not walking the talk enough – and I also think more still needs to be done to ensure there is sufficient awareness and prevention mainly through education! The fact that we have never had this document since independence, and only to be incepted 20 years after independence, speaks volumes on how we have been neglecting this sector of health.

Furthermore, one might argue that government has made efforts in providing social work available to the people – in its specific institutions and the public domain in general, of which the ministries of health and gender are the main custodians. 

I truthfully can’t dispute that, but it might also spark the debate on professionalism and ethics, because those are the main values of which these institutions should be rooted on. I strongly feel we need to improve on the issue of professionalism, so that people can have a high level of trust in these institutions. 

The point I am trying to make is that one of the problems that lead to these suicidal cases may be the difficulty to find genuine and professional counsellors, or people who are willing to listen, without compromising their oath as far as confidentiality and work ethics are concerned. 

This is because people feel opening up or fully pouring out their hearts will lead to their personal business will be spilled out there.

In addition to the possible causes, our African cultural beliefs and norms are also partly to blame for some of these things – because, especially the transition of boys to men, we are raised to be tough and diverting from this “norm” is considered as weakness. 

In other words, we are groomed to just swallow it – not vomit it – even if it is hot. 

Boys and men are not supposed to cry, or report even if they are being bullied or ridiculed, which is a shame, especially in these IT-based times, where these practices have become common.

I think, we really need a serious paradigm shift when it comes to safe- guarding mental health in our society – and I also think we have a sound policy on paper; it only needs implementation.

It is a fact that people go through many hurdles of life – from social to economic situations that may eventually lead to depression, stress and anxiety. 

This happens in all sectors of our society – from work place/corporate pressure, schooling and personal life encounters!

Believe me, even if you see those superficial smiles and laughter projected in the institutional and corporate corridors, the demons and personal cartastophies people are fighting, are deeper than you can imagine. 

It is a scourge that is slowly engulfing our society – and let us not allow it to be a norm. 

It is time we make mental health a priority in Namibia by creating platforms for deeper discussions.

2021-11-05  Staff Reporter

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