Speaking up about mental health

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Health Ministe, Dr Chitalu Chilufya

THE world commemorated Mental Health Day yesterday under theme is “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access” in a time when this issue is gaining prominence.
In a recent Covid-19 update by the Ministry of Health, Dr Chitalu Chilufya noted that Covid-19 has negatively impacted mental health due to the increased number of people that need to seek psychological services.
Head Clinical Care at Chainama Hospital, Nita Besa said the country has seen a rise of people needing psychological services due to the impact of Covid-19.


The World Mental Health Day is observed annually on 10th October with the aim of drawing attention of governments and its supporting partners so that mental health is given priority in the public health agenda globally.
Close to one billion people globally have a mental disorder and those with severe mental disorders tend to die 10 -20 years earlier than the general population.
Mental health issues in Zambia have often been ignored with person affected by various psychological conditions stigmatised.
Just recently there was a report about a 12-year-old committing suicide and in other cases we have heard of cases where troubled persons kill a spouse or family members before killing themselves.
Very often, family, friends and workmates are aware that there is a mental crisis but often they feel helpless.
In light of this, we wish to applaud efforts by one diminutive but outsttnading doctor who is raising the flag high for Mental Health well-being – Dr Naeem Dalal who is also known as Dr Ganizo.
Dr Dalal, who is a two-time University of Zambia (UNZA) graduate in his final year pursuing a Masters of Medicine in Psychiatry and Mental health has been recognised as a global mental health expert by the International Mental Health networks and welcomed on many panels to spread his insights. He has been invited to be a youth author for Lancet Psychiatry Changing Landscape of Youth Mental health commission.
According to a post on the University of Zambia – Ridgweway Campus Facebook page, Naeem Dalal, MD, BScHB, MBChB, MMED Psychiatry Registrar. Naeem is a second-generation Zambian who is leading grassroots to system-level change around preventive mental health.
He has a track record of impact as a Zambian youth mentor and mental health expert, psychiatry registrar at University Teaching Hospitals, and public health chairperson of the Zambia medical association.
Using a holistic lens to promote brain health, he incorporates the voices of people with lived experiences, culture and beliefs coupled with evidence base through research to bring about system-level change. He is an alumna of the International Brain Research Organization.
He fosters research skills in youth as the Mentorship Director of the Young Emerging Scientists in Zambia. He is an active Global Shaper: World Economic Forum, representing Zambia and the global south by changing the perspective of brain health coupling awareness and acceptance.
Dr Naeem believes in implementation research and he uses journalism and community outreach to teach the art of preventive medicine.
He is the founder of a mental health community, Ganizo which is redefining mental health disorders at grassroots using culture-sensitive dialogue with current trends in neuroscience. He has reached out to and mentored over 5,000 Zambian youth in psychosocial support and mentors many youth advocates with lived experiences.
He has delivered mental health workshops to various professionals ranging from media, teachers and prison staff to incorporate psychosocial services in practice.
Dr Naeem is a staff development fellow at the University of Zambia delivering lecture series on the neuroscience of psychiatric disorders. He has supervised over 25 undergraduate students as a staff development fellow in conducting research and delivers lectures through the department of psychiatry and mental health.
He volunteers as a health correspondent for ZNBC, Diamond TV and internationally with BBC Africa, Bloomberg to name a few.
Critical funding gaps are halting and disrupting crucial mental health services in Africa, as demand for these services rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new World Health Organization (WHO) survey shows.
The survey of 28 African countries was undertaken as part of the first global examination of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on access to mental health services. It underscores the urgent need for increased funding. Of the countries responding in the African region, 37% reported that their Covid-19 mental health response plans are partially funded and a further 37% reported having no funds at all.
This comes as the Covid-19 pandemic increases demand for mental health services.
“Isolation, loss of income, the deaths of loved ones and a barrage of information on the dangers of this new virus can stir up stress levels and trigger mental health conditions or exacerbate existing ones,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown, more than ever, how mental health is integral to health and well-being and must be an essential part of health services during outbreaks and emergencies.”
African countries account for 15 of the top 30 countries globally for suicide per 100,000 people. While there is scant data on how Covid-19 is increasing mental health conditions on the African continent, one study in South Africa found that 10–20% of the 220 people surveyed reported potent experiences of anxiety and fear as a result of the pandemic. Another survey of 12 000 women in low-income communities in Uganda and Zambia found an increase in persistent stress, anxiety and depression.
The WHO assessment of mental health services took place in July and August 2020 and 27 of the 28 African nations which responded have included mental health in their Covid-19 response plans, underscoring the growing recognition of the importance of this once neglected area of health.
In Africa, substance use disorder services were the mental health services facing the biggest disruptions. The main causes for the disruptions were due to patients failing to turn up, travel restrictions hindering access to health facilities and a decrease in patient volume due to cancellations of elective care.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa has released guidance on managing Covid-19 and mental health for health workers and the general public. WHO is assisting African governments in responding to the pandemic as fits their unique circumstances.
Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today organized by APO Group. She was joined by Hon Dr Manaouda Malachie, Minister of Public Health, Cameroon; and Dr Naeem Dalal, Psychiatrist Registrar, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka.
Alcohol abuse is one of the most commonly abused substances that lead to admission to mental health facilities.
Chainama Hills Hospital is the main hospital that deals with cases related to mental health and holds a negative connotation despite the positive outcomes that patients can attest to.
Zambia still uses the 1951 Mental Disorders Act in which patients are referred to as idiots, imbeciles and invalids. This is something that requires urgent re-dress.
Last year, Chainama Hills Hospital treated over 14,000 mental illnesses of which 6,100 alcohol-related cases. Epilepsy cases were second on the list at 3,100.
Other prominent causes of the mental illnesses were schizophrenia spectrum disorders (condition which affects a person’s behaviour), mood disorders such as depression, HIV-related pyschiatric disorders and pyschiatric consequences.
It is hoped that all citizens can openly address issues related to mental health to avoid unnecessary stigma, embarrassment and pain.

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