At least 8 000 cases of people diagnosed as suffering from mental illness were recorded at the Psychiatric Hospital in Windhoek last year.
This translates into 0.0027 percent of the population who received treatment for mental illness, but the number could be significantly higher, given that the 8 000 figure only indicates the sum of those directly affected in cases reported.
Although there are no records showing specifically what types of mental disorders are most prevalent in the country, it was noted that alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gender-based violence were major drivers in that they perpetuate psychological distress.
According to Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services Juliet Kavetuna, who spoke at the Mental Health Week roadshow in Tsumeb on Saturday, discrimination remains the biggest barrier that prevents people suffering from mental illness from leading a productive and normal life, although she acknowledged that the situation has improved considerably with regard to the typical concealment of mental illness due to fear and stigma.
Mental Health Day is an annual event aimed at raising awareness globally about mental issues and their impact on human rights and the quality of life of those affected and their families.
“Some of the reasons [for not seeking medical help] are more personal, including the fact that mental illness-related stigma is still prevalent and affects not only the afflicted, but also family members and friends.
“This stigma is identified as the worst drawback for many individuals who suffer from mental illness, such as depression, as they report that coping with the stigma is worse than coping with the illness itself,” Kavetuna remarked.
She added that it is essential for communities to realise that mental illness does not discriminate and can affect anyone, regardless of race, gender, age and social or economic background.
“Mental illness is a serious medical condition and must be treated as such. We should integrate mental wellness into our daily life by openly talking about mental health problems, as it will help others realise the scientific fact that mental illnesses are medical issues and are not universal, but need to be understood and treated,” Kavetuna said.
It was also noted that widespread poverty, rapid socio-cultural and political changes, including overcrowding, unemployment, rural-urban migration, as well as the dire lack of modern and accessible healthcare facilities and services are major contributing factors to the mental health crisis in the country.
Isai Nekundi, Dundee Precious Metals Tsumeb’s manager for administration and stakeholder affairs, observed that major industries have traditionally tended to look at workplace health from a strictly occupational health and safety perspective, but neglected the mental health component.
“To have a comprehensive approach, workplaces should consider measures that may impact on the mental health of workers, such as introducing wellness programmes to assist employees going through stressful situations at work or abuse and violence in their private lives, which increase stress and the likelihood of developing a mental disorder” Nekundi noted.
He then made a donation of N$10 000 towards the roadshow campaign on behalf of Dundee Precious Metals and called upon the private sector to support such key government initiatives.