Hello World, this is our second week of outreach and advocacy through our blog, and we want to keep the steam up as we contribute to raise awareness of mental health.
Last week, we wrote about Mental Health in Africa as being an invisible crisis, we launched a campaign to urge us all to dare2totalk about it, and we challenged ourselves to the reflect on the thoughts we had about mental health. We made reference to WHO research and publications, which qualify Mental Health as an alarming epidemic of the century, and which brings out the direct correlation between mental health and development.
This week, we want to share and reflect on an article by Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI) as the research into this silent epidemic.
Facts and Statistics
The article states thus: ‘steadily approaching the title of the second highest cause of disability in the world, mental health disorders are an international health concern that is gaining considerable attention’. They proceed to draw facts from The 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) Mental Health Atlas, which reveals that 110 of its 184 member states have an identifiable mental health policy, with only 19 of the 45 African member states surveyed having any mental health policies in place.
Why Such Silence?
The CAI article above identifies Mental Health Stigma as largely responsible for this silent crisis. It posits thus:
” In many African countries, communities are often not empathetic towards mental health patients. The mentally ill face discrimination, social ostracism and the violation of basic human rights, all due to an on-going stigma associated with mental health problems. Ironically, some of these violations occur in institutions where people with ill mental health seek treatment. Mental health facilities have been found with unhygienic and inhumane living conditions, such as the use of caged beds with netting or metal bars to restrain patients. There are documented cases of individuals having been tied to trees and logs far from their communities for elongated periods of time without adequate food or shelter. A study performed in Uganda revealed that the term ‘depression’ is not culturally acceptable amongst the population, suggesting that mental health issues are not acknowledged or considered a legitimate affliction. In another study conducted in Nigeria, participants generally responded with fear, avoidance and anger to those who were observed to have a mental illness. The stigma linked to mental illness in that country can be attributed to a variety of factors, including lack of education, fear, religious reasoning and general prejudice. When surveyed on their thoughts on the causes of mental illness, over a third of Nigerian respondents (34.3%) cited drug misuse, including alcohol, marijuana and street drugs as the main cause. Divine wrath and the will of God were seen as the second most prevalent reason (18.8%), followed by witchcraft/spiritual possession (11.7%). Very few cited genetics, family relationships or socioeconomic status as possible triggers”.
Absence of Mental Health Policies
The Gbm-em Foundation concedes with the WHO position that there are very few, and inadequate mental health policies in Africa. The CAI report already quoted, states clearly thus: ‘To describe the current accessibility of mental health services in the majority of African countries as deficient would be an understatement’. This is obviously largely due to the absence or inadequacy of mental health policies. There may be other priorities in African countries especially in these eras of general insecurities and strife, but there is a big link between mental health and development. The cost of mental health to an entire nation, is enormous in terms of lost resources, and the fact that there is no or inadequate policy to monitor, evaluate and implement positive strategies and programs, means that the economy continues to lose out even where such loss could be curtailed.
The CAI report above, compiled some interesting statistics about the dire absence of mental health services in some African countries:
“The psychiatrist-to-patient ratio in Africa is less than 1 to 100,000, and it is reported that 70% of African countries allocate less than 1% of the total health budget to mental health. Liberia is a case in point. A 2008 report compiled by the WHO states that there are only 0.06 mental health professionals per 100,000 people in Liberia, where, the S. Grant Mental Health Hospital is the sole inpatient facility for those suffering from mental disorders. A study conducted by the American Medical Association found that 44% of Liberian adults exhibit symptoms indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The likelihood that these individuals are receiving treatment is very low, when taking into account the scarcity of mental health facilities in that country. The Liberia National Mental Health Policy found that of those living in low income areas that need mental health services, only 15% actually receive treatment.
Similarly, in Ghana only 1.17% of those who are suffering from mental health problems have received the required treatment. There are only three major psychiatric hospitals in that country, all of them located in the southern region. Furthermore, there is only one psychiatrist allocated to 1.5 million people. With such limited accessibility, many mental health sufferers seek treatment from traditional and faith healers.
Compared with the West African countries mentioned, the situation in East Africa is similarly dire. There is an evident shortage of mental health professionals in public practice. In 2001, Tanzania recorded 10 active psychiatrists catering to a population of 30 million. Kenya is regarded as comparatively better prepared to cater for those suffering from mental health disorders, with 47 practising psychiatrists in the private and public sectors”.
The time for Action has never been this urgent
2015 is a very strategic period for the MDG and the way forward. Yet, mental health which largely impacts the output, performance and overall development of an individual and the society, has not yet received the attention due from all the stakeholders involved.
It is high time we dare2talk more and more about it. It is high time such talk leads to more walks. It is high time societal norms and practices shun stigma and help transform mental health to mental wealth.