STIGMATISATION and discrimination among people with mental illnesses are common in Zambia and may be severe.
Likewise, there are growing concerns that people with mental illness receive second-class physical healthcare.
It is also true that beyond this, some facets of psychiatric practice are reported as being insensitive, disrespectful or even disabling.
It is not hidden that people with severe mental health problems in Zambia are subjected to mistreatment while detained under the Mental Health Act.
It is worse for those that are often seen picking things from rubbish dumps as they are considered almost next to wildlife.
There are also some alarming reports of mental health patients who have been abused by family members.
People with mental disabilities suffer severe abuses in psychiatric institutions like our Chainama Mental hospital where care for them appears to be below average.
It would therefore appear that government has done little to combat such abuse or to ensure that these people can live in the community, as it is their right under international law.
In our psychiatric hospitals, people with mental disabilities face overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
In some of the spiritual healing centres, like the one in Kitwe’s Buchi Township, they are often chained to trees, frequently in the baking sun, and forced to fast for weeks as part of a “healing process,” while being denied access to medications.
So the appeal by Disability and Social Development (DSD) to communities to stop discriminating against those on mental health medication should be well established.
Like its specialist Mr Mwiya Mwiya has rightly observed, all of us are potential victims of mental disorders.
Mr Mwiya said that most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in Zambia were those to do with depression, alongside other neuropsychiatric disorders relating to drug and alcohol abuse.
In an interview, Mr Mwiya said every individual within the community is a potential mental health patient, and those who need psychiatrist help should not be looked down upon.
“Every individual in the community regardless of their social standing is prone to having different kinds of illnesses which include mental health,”
Mr Mwiya fittingly points out that Zambia needs to reach a point where people with mental illness are not exposed to stigma and can take their medication without fear of how the community would perceive them.
He said the stigma against mental health needed to be overcome as mental health disorders were curable just like most common diseases like malaria.
It is evident to see that the challenges of people with mental disabilities who live in the community, who face stigma and discrimination and often lack adequate shelter, food, and healthcare are mind-boggling.
“The government needs to take immediate steps to end abuses against people with mental disabilities in institutions and elsewhere where their conditions are inhuman and degrading.
We think therefore that people with mental disabilities must be treated equally and may not be excluded from shelters on the basis of having a disability”.
Zambia should take it upon herself to seriously investment in mental health services to ensure the victims get the help they need, when they need it, and before reaching crisis point.