Zimbabweans urged to talk about depression

Harare, 7 April 2017 - Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Health Day at Harare Central Hospital grounds in an event which also saw the official opening of the psychiatric OPD and renovated in-patient departments; as well as the launch of the Mental Health Discharge Guidelines. World Health Day was commemorated under the theme Depression; Let’s talk, which draws attention to the global burden of this common mental disor-der.

The colorful commemoration characterized by music, dance, drama, and recitals by patients with mental disorders of their experiences was attended by key players in mental health; including senior Government officials, civil society organizations, development partners, and some patients from Harare Psychiatric Hospital. There was great solidarity from the entire UN family in Zimbabwe, with the UN team embarking on a 10km walk for health which end-ed at the venue of the commemoration.

About 30 million people in Africa are affected by depression, and it is the leading cause of disability, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease; and at worst, can lead to suicide which is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds globally.

Targeted speakers at the commemoration urged people to talk about issues and seek counselling to avoid depression. In his statement, WR/Zimbabwe, Dr David Okello, highlighted 4 key messages:

  • Adequate attention should be given to the supply of psychotropic medicines for mental health which should be made available in the public health sector;
  • The need to address the significant amount of stigma and social discrimination associated with mental health disorders. “We appeal for better social support for people with mental disorders, to show them love and compassion and not to condemn them” he said.
  • The need to review policies with regards to incarceration of people with mental disorders, including modifying prison cells appropriately to handle medical conditions associated with mental illness; and,
  • An appeal for all to join together to make mental health a priority, and to spread the word that mental health is just as important as physical health

In his statement, Honourable Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr David Parirenyatwa urged people, especially men to adopt the culture of talking about issues and counselling to avoid falling into depression.

He lamented the shortage of mental health professionals, and promised that psychiatric hospitals will receive more mental health nurses out of the increased Government HR allocation to the health sector. Dr Parirenyatwa used the occasion to launch the mental health discharge guidelines, and to officially open the Psychiatric OPD and the renovated in-patient departments at the Harare Psychiatric Hospital. The new Psychiatric OPD, and the renovated in-patient department were built with support from MSF. Dr Parirenyatwa acknowledged the support from MSF and urged them to look at other psychiatric hospitals like Ingutsheni in Bulawayo and Ngomahuru in Masvingo which he said are also in need of such support.

Zimbabwe has 4 psychiatric hospitals namely Harare psychiatric hospital, Parirenyatwa Annexe, Ingutsheni, and Ngomahuru, and is now moving towards the provision of mental health services in clinics closer to the communities where people stay in order to make mental health services accessible to many.

The theme for WHD 2017 seemed to have captured the attention of many people. There was wide coverage in the print media and on TV and radio, and spot talks by Government officials and civil society. The theme has triggered a lot of interest and Zimbabweans at all levels are fully engaged discussing this theme, not only how to deal with overt cases, but also prevention. There is a clear realization that this is a common problem that needs not only be handled by health professionals, but the engagement of families and communities can go a long way.

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