Mental health crisis hits Zimbabwe

ELIZABETH MASHIRI
ASSISTANT EDITOR


GWERU – Zimbabwe is facing a serious and worsening mental health crisis where mentally challenged people account for 13,8% of the country’s murder cases and these are committed in the most heinous ways, experts have said.

The experts attributed the country’s dire situation to expensive and outdated drugs, a Government that has abandoned its duty to the mentally ill to donors and a citizenry that is awfully low on mental health education.

The country has just 17 registered psychiatrists which is a critical shortage.

Winnie Ndoro, the director at Time for Mental Health Trust expressed grave concern at the situation and warned that it was deepening and engulfing communities.

Other serious cases committed by the mentally challenged which are increasing steeply include rape and attempted murder, The Mirror has established. The number of inmates at Mlondolozi Mental Health Prison in Bulawayo for example jumped by 183,7%
from 37 in 2019 to 105 in 2020 showing an alarming growth in the number of serious crimes committed by the mentally ill.

Mlondolozi is a mental health prison.It has become scary to walk on the streets of some cities in the country because of the growing population of violent mentally challenged people. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Jasper Chimedza asked The Mirror to write questions and email them to his public relations department. Phone calls to that office for answers to the email were not picked since Wednesday.

The Mirror conducted a survey following two horrendous deaths inside a week in which a Grade 7 pupil was stoned to death in Gweru while coming from an exam. In the second case, a mentally challenged person killed and cooked his 10 year-old cousin’s
head at a village near Gokomere Mission.

There are countless cases in the cities and countryside where women are assaulted and severely injured or sexually abused by the mentally challenged and the perpetrators continue to walk the streets scot-free. Ndoro said Zimbabwe is still using
drugs of the 1950s’ like Chlopromazine which has serious side-effects and patients stop taking them because of the pain they cause. The responsibility for mental health is now generally left to the donor community. There is also a critical shortage of
psychiatrists and poor mental health awareness.

Of the 44 murder cases dealt with at Gweru High Court Circuit in 2020; 5 cases or 11% were committed by mentally challenged people. The High Court in Harare dealt with 97 murder cases during the same period and of those 10 or 10,3% were committed
by mentally challenged people.

In 2019 the High Court in Harare dealt with 128 murder cases and 26 of those or 20,3% were committed by mentally challenged persons. Of the 105 inmates at Mlondolozi, 42 committed very serious crimes and 21 are in there for murder. The number
of murder cases at the prison rose by 61,5% from 13 in 2019 to 21 this year. Twelve of the inmates committed rape and there is an increase of 71,4% from 7 inmates in 2019 to 12 in 2020.

Nine of the inmates are in for attempted murder and this is an increase of 80% compared to the 5 inmates in 2019.
“Government is not prioritising mental health and the mental health crisis is a huge threat to the well-being of our communities. The Government is paying no regard to the Mental Health Act which makes it a right for people with mental health challenges to access drugs for free.
“Government has tragic dependency syndrome where it relies on donors for the mental health care system support. People living with mental disabilities are obliged to get monthly allowances for them to take care of themselves,” said Ndoro.

Ndoro said drugs are too expensive. A bipolar patient who needs Lithium carbonate and olanzapine for example would need US$29 for the combination for a month’s supply. Angelica Chiketa Mkorongo Founder of Zimbabwe OCD Trust also said that the country lacks psychiatrists and medication is expensive. “Our country is in a mental health crisis. A lot of awareness is required so that people with mental health conditions seek help. The Government needs to focus on community and family based mental health care. We only have 17 registered psychiatrists and this is far from being enough in the country,” said Mkoronga.

Zandile Samkange-Bwoni, a mental health survivor and advocate said Government is spending too little on mental health.
Ngomahuru Medical Superintendent Dr Parerenyatwa Maramba said that there is poor resource allocation to improve mental health in the country. “There is poor resource allocation from Government otherwise the framework in terms of policy and
strategic plans are in place. This is because of stigma attached to mental health and lack of awareness on the part of those who allocate resources.

“Most of the time we do not have drugs at the institution so we end up buying expensive drugs from private suppliers. Our medication is more expensive compared to medicines used in general hospitals,” said Maramba.

Ingutsheni Acting CEO Nemache Mawere emphasised the use of outdated medication which have a lot of side effects as a big challenge. He said that patients default due to the dire side effects. “We are still using medication like the Chlopromazine which was introduced in 1953 and it has a lot of side effects to patients. The results is that they default. After defaulting they relapse
and commit these horrific crimes.

There are new medications for mental patients which have less side effects and Government must invest in those. “The next of kin or relative are responsible for a mental health person according to Mental Health Act. We as institutions cannot therefore go
around forcefully collecting mentally challenged people to take them to our facilities.

“Communities should come together whenever there is a violent mental patient in the streets, report to Police and make sure he or she is arrested,”said Mawere. http://masvingomiror.com

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