The dilemma of mental health illness in Zimbabwe

She still vividly remembers how she nursed her mentally challenged mother with little support from the family let alone the community.

Pastor Lyn Chidavaenzi chronicled how she was her mother’s only caregiver after she succumbed to mental health illness, a condition she lived with for 10 years.

Stigma associated with mental illness was rife back then and the stigma is still real.

Chidavaenzi bemoans the stigma associated with mental condition in Zimbabwe coupled with lack of adequate health services for mental illness noting that most people with mental illness continue to suffer in silence.

“I remember the day my dear mum succumbed to mental depression. The next ten years before her sad passing on were the hardest as I was her sole caregiver.

“The stigma that was attached (and still is) to mental illness was unbearable. I remember the cold stares from people in the kombi or on the road on our way to Ingutsheni Mental Hospital (in Bulawayo).

“I remember the way she would break down when I had to leave her there once in a while for observation and medication,” she recalled.
Chidavaenzi however, finds solace in that she managed to be there for her mentally challenged mother until she died.

“I remember the way she would hold dearly to the hem of my dress begging me not to leave her. I remember the tears that would stream down my face as I left her behind those walls and the way my heart would threaten to break into a thousand pieces.

“But amidst that turmoil I remember the big smile that would threaten to dwarf her petite figure every time she would see me when I kept my promise to come back for her.

“Mama Sheila you fought this illness right to the end. When you went to be with the Lord; I wept but I also rejoiced knowing you were going to a better place where your mind would be fully restored. I’m glad I stood with you till the end,” said Pastor Chidavaenzi in tribute to her mother.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, at least 1,3 million people are living with mental illness in Zimbabwe and Chidavaenzi believes families have a role to play to support the affected to reduce the condition from escalating.

However, in Zimbabwe, mental illness continues to be associated with avenging spirits, witchcraft and demons and all this has contributed to serious discrimination.

Health and Child Care Minister David Parirenyatwa is on record saying there was rampant stigma and discrimination affecting people suffering from mental illness while admitting that mental health continued to be under funded in the country.

Despite the growing numbers over the years of people affected with mental illness, mental health services, including drugs, remain in dire shortage across the country with mental health drugs such as Fluphenezine deconoate (FD) and Chlorpromazine (CPZ) constantly in short supply.

“FD is a lifetime drug for mental health problems and it is administered as an injection once a month after which oral tablets (CPZ) are taken daily for management of the condition.”

“Sadly FD is not available in most public health facilities which means that the families of those affected have to buy it in pharmacies every month. FD costs not less than US $10 and given the economic challenges that the country faces, how many can afford to buy the drug.

“In most cases those with mental challenges are even abandoned by their families and in the absence of medication, the condition can get out of hand,” a local doctor said.

This means that for many Zimbabweans, mental health support is out of reach, either physically or financially.

World Health Organisation report on mental health and development highlights the lack of appropriate attention to mental health while calling on governments and development actors to reach out to people with mental disorders in the design of strategies and programmes using a multi-sectorial approach that include those people in education, employment, health, social protection and poverty reduction policies.


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