Ministry working on new Mental Health Bill

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Selma Ikela
Windhoek

The Ministry of Health is updating the Mental Health Bill to replace the current Act of 1973, which Health Deputy Minister Juliet Kavetuna says is obsolete.

Kavetuna said the new legislation would address issues of treatment and give the right to re-evaluate patient’s cases.

She explained that right now, mentally challenged people are admitted to mental health care institutions, but they are not evaluated later during their stay in the mental institution to assess whether they have been treated and could be sent back into society.

They live in mental health care institutions until their death, something the new Bill would address.

Kavetuna said they were also replacing the old Bill, which appeared to have been advancing a number of issues that were racially oriented.

She explained that the new Bill would give more rights for treatment of the mental diseases, and enable employers to understand employees’ mental condition and not discriminate against them.

“When you have someone who is HIV positive, you don’t get rid of him or her. It should not be that when I come from the hospital and I am diagnosed with bipolar, you must declare me redundant,” Kavetuna remarked and added that mental illness should not be a qualifying factor for a person not to be employable.

She also said the Bill would address the issues of treatment and would give the right to the patient to have a re-evaluation as some irregular treatment or mistreatment of people could occur. Kavetuna stated the old Bill also had out-dated terms such as State President’s Client, which refers to a person who committed a crime because of his or her mental condition.

However, according to the new regulations from the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, they refer to people with mental illness as state patient and it has nothing to do with the president.

In addition, the deputy minister said it was important for the country to realise that mental illness is just like any other illness.

“Mental illness is not inborn; it is not genetic, but triggered by social events, and with every situation where you are living as a normal person on this earth you might find yourself in a situation where you need to be cared for because of your mental state,” she says.

“All of us are potential mental health clients or we have the possibility of becoming mentally ill. It is a non-discriminative disease, and is triggered by a social event. You might lose your mother or husband and find yourself in the same state,” Kavetuna said and added that mental health problems have nothing to do with witchcraft or curses in a family.

The deputy minister said Namibia currently had 7,000 mentally ill patients, many of them outpatients, who had been cared for through the process over the last five years.

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