By Lahja Nashuuta
Windhoek - Namibia joined the rest of the world in marking the 2018 World Mental Health Day.
The event is commemorated annually on October 10 to raise awareness on mental health issues around the world and mobilises efforts in support of mental health care.
Each year the event, marked under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has a different theme.
Young people were the primary focus of the 2018 theme for World Mental Health Day, which is ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’.
Mental health, according to WHO, is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
The health agency noted that by 2030, depression will be the leading illness globally. While suicide is not always related to mental health problems, there is evidence that depression led people to commit suicide.
“Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In terms of the burden of the disease among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving. Eating disorders are also of concern,” says WHO.
Suicide is the common cause of death among young people aged 20-49 years in Namibia. However, the local health sector is lagging behind in providing proper mental health care, a situation that has health and social services minister Dr Bernard Haufiku worried.
Dr Haufiku has confirmed that the country has indeed a shortage of mental health workers as well as mental hospitals and training institutions.
According to the health minister, about 8,000 Namibians are treated for mental health per year, but there are only two psychologists, three psychiatrists, 43 psychiatric registered nurses and three social workers currently employed in state psychiatric hospitals.
Haufiku said mental health continues to lag behind because of the limited resources, which are often directed to the communicable diseases and life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and cancer.
“The insufficient resources have resulted in the lack of services, poor treatment and rehabilitation outcomes of individuals diagnosed with common mental disorders. Consequently, this leads to the permanent or chronic pathologies,” he said.
Haufiku further said although the government had plans to expand the mental health services delivery system in the country, for instance, to build more mental health care centres across the country. However, such plans could not be implemented due to inadequate resources.
“In 2015, we wanted to build a mental health hospital in Windhoek, however, these plans could not be implemented because of lack funds. While in Nkurenkuru and Nankudu (Kavango West) it was the community that rejected the building of the mental hospital and they demanded that the resources be diverted to other developmental issues facing that society,” he said.
The other challenge facing the government in addressing mental health is the absence legal framework. Currently, the legal framework in place is the Mental Health Act No. 18 of 1973 that the country inherited from South Africa at independence and most critics say it does not address the issues in criminal justice arising from mental health issues.
However, Haufiku confirmed that Namibia will soon have its own legal framework as the Mental Health Bill 2017 has been finalised and is under scrutiny at Cabinet level. The legal framework would be used in the future to at treating mental illness.
With a lack of resources and not the absence of appropriate laws, Haufiku emphasised the need for community-based psychological interventions that could be useful in bridging the gap and addressing the issue of reach.
He said through psychological-oriented community interventions, public enlightenment on what mental disorders will be enhanced and utilisation of public mental health services will be improved.