Fins could tap into mental health sector

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-A business delegation from Finland visited Namibia last week to explore potential collaboration in the health sector and one of their findings is that there is a great need to provide more facilities for people with mental health problems.

Leena Lehtonen, the finance director of Sopimusvuori (LTD), observed that there are limited mental hospitals in the country to attend to people with mental illnesses.

Lehtonen added there is a need for people with mental illnesses to have daycare facilities, where they can be rehabilitated once discharged from hospital.

Her observation is that once discharged, patients go home and it is expected of family members, who often do not understand their conditions, to take care of them.

“In assisted-living facilities, the person does not need to be hospitalised, but they are not yet fit enough to be independent so they go there for rehabilitation.

“There are always people who will need support for their whole lives and such people are in need of such centres,” said Lehtonen, adding that people with mental illnesses are often isolated and looked down on.

Such institutions, added Lehtonen, are a good source of moral support, as people with a similar condition would be able to encourage each other and not feel like they are the only ones battling such conditions.

“Many areas in Namibia do not have mental institutions here,” added her colleague, Sanna Parrukoski, project manager of Sopimusvuori.

The challenge with daycare centres for people with mental illnesses in Namibia is that the chances of them being privately owned are large, said Parrukoski, adding that they amongst others sought to develop working collaboration partnerships with organisations in setting up such homes.

“This way people with mental illnesses will be able to do activities and get support. The purpose of these services is to integrate these people into society and to help them become independent… at least to some degree,” added Lehtonen.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Windhoek Mental Healthcare Centre at Windhoek Central hospital is the national referral hospital for people with mental illnesses.

This centre provides outpatient and inpatient services to adults and children, with a bed capacity of 220, said Ester Paulus.

“The Forensic Psychiatric Unit is located in the same centre and has 90 beds. The centre has the full range of professional services, ranging from psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists,” Paulus said.

Oshakati Psychiatric Unit, located in Oshakati Hospital, has 80 beds, but admits up to 100 patients, Paulus noted.

“Emergency mental health services are also provided at district hospitals as part of general wards. Patients from outside Windhoek and Oshakati are first handled at their nearest health facilities. The patient should first be treated for at least 72 hours in the service at which they present. After 72 hours – if there is no improvement in the patient’s condition – the doctor refers the patient to the psychiatrist, because there is no specialist mental health staff in these facilities,” said Paulus.

Private practitioners also provide mental health services in Namibia, “but these services are limited to those who can afford them,” she said.

Lehtonen and Parrukoski said that “maybe we will not set up facilities, but collaborate with Namibian companies in setting up facilities for people with mental illnesses”.
The two women note with concern that there is an increase in mental illnesses, citing better diagnostic tools in identifying various mental health problems.

“We do have similarities in Namibia and Finland. For example, there is a stigma attached to people with mental illnesses yet those illnesses are like any other illness. It’s a global trend,” added Lehtonen.

They also pointed out that there are various factors that affect mental ill health, including genetics and age.

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