At least 8 527 people were treated for mental illnesses at various health facilities countrywide in 2015, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, compared to 9 257 the previous year.
Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors.
For example, mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness as certain genes may increase the risk of developing mental illness.
Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked with mental illness.
The spokesperson of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Ester Paulus, said there is a lot of stigma attached to mental health.
In February, five patients were dumped at various centres by their families, asking that they be kept there for indefinite periods. “Some families disappear or totally refuse to take patients back home,” added Paulus.
The longest treated patient was admitted in 1960 and is now 60 years old, while the second longest treated patient at the Windhoek centre is 55 years old and was admitted in 1973. The latter has been at the centre for 43 years, while the third longest treated patient was admitted in 1998 and has been at the centre for 18 years.
Paulus said that some patients do not get visits from their families while in hospital. “Our patients do not even get flowers like other patients. Some families request the centre to keep the patients forever,” she said.
She attributed the situation to beliefs that the causes of mental disorders are due to witchcraft and evil spirits. To make matters worse, some staff working at the mental centres label patients, said Paulus.
“Some families complain that these people are destructive at home,” she said.
Paulus said mental health services are available at the Windhoek mental health care centre and the Oshakati psychiatric ward.
The Windhoek mental health care centre is a department under the Windhoek central hospital. This centre provides outpatient and inpatient services to adults and children, with a bed capacity of over 212, explained Paulus.
The forensic psychiatric unit is located in the same centre and has 90 beds. The centre has the full range of professionals such as psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists, said Paulus.
The Oshakati psychiatric unit, which is located in the Oshakati hospital, has 80 beds but admits up to 100 patients, she added.
In addition, Paulus said depending on the type of mental illness a person is suffering from some patients recover well and return to the facilities for follow-ups as outpatients.
“Some patients never recover completely and other patients need ongoing support and care,” she said.
The challenges include relapses and re-admissions, while short stays in hospital result in inadequate rehabilitation plans.
“This is a result of limited space at hospitals and lack of facilities such as day care centres at community level,” added Paulus.
Transport is a challenge for some patients as they are unable to return to the facilities for ongoing rehabilitation, said Paulus.