Urgent Call to Address Mental Healthcare

Unhappy young black man having session with professional psychologist at mental health clinic. Psychotherapist taking notes during conversation with depressed male patient

MOST OF US will remember the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic that left us reeling from its pervasive social and economic impacts.

While we were trying to make sense of social distancing, isolation and quarantine, we were introduced to an understanding of what our fears and worries actually meant.

Concepts relating to and describing mental health were discussed on a daily basis. There were many ‘aha’ moments that stemmed from realising that feelings of anxiety after hearing challenging news, or feeling depressed after being laid off work were normal responses to life experiences.

Covid amplified the need to implement proper mechanisms to improve our mental health and deal with mental health challenges.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 970 million people were suffering from mental health disorders or substance abuse disorder at any given time before the pandemic.

Statistics produced by the WHO further show that one person takes their life every 40 seconds globally, with Namibia rating among the top nations regarding suicides.

While mental health has always been an intrinsic component of being human, humanity only awakened to the importance of mental health after the 1980s, spurred on by another pandemic – the fear and uncertainty produced by the emergence of HIV-AIDS.

Just like in the 80s, we still lack the emotional language and capacity to deal with the direct and indirect effects of pandemics.

Despite a plethora of information about mental health available on the internet, people’s perceptions of mental health still stem from myth and disinformation.

This has led to false assumptions like equating mental health issues to mental illness – a common belief among many Namibians.

Stigma is blocking platforms for open dialogue about mental health, prevents improving mental health, and discourages seeking help.

While pandemics and chronic illnesses have accorded us an opportunity to reset and restart our lives and outlook – things have remained business as usual.

The budgetary allocation for primary psychosocial care stands at below 1%, suicide is rife, and gender-based violence, substance abuse and other forms of maladaptive behaviour have become common ways of coping.

Prompt action is needed to address the challenges and stigma surrounding mental health.

Access to professionals and intervention are crucial to improve outcomes.

This can be done by increasing the budgetary allocation to primary psychosocial care services.

Alex Gomachab

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