Mental illness and disability are one of the most ignored silent killers in the Zambian society today. Common mental health problems are those that affect peoples’ behaviours, relationships, life styles and ability to make decisions.
Mental health challenges are driven by many social factors such as poverty, joblessness, alcohol and substance abuse, breakdown in family union and a general sense of despair and hopelessness as people struggle to cope with the stresses of life.
Recent developments in the social media and mainstream media spaces have brought out some strange behavioral patterns among citizens especially women who are struggling with particular aspects of their social and economic lives. These are mostly young ladies who are struggling to raise children as single mothers with no visible family support, others are women struggling to create profiles of themselves that are inconsistent with what they are known for a way to respond to their past. These situations have sadly escalated into personal wars of words, innuendos and even legal suits.
As organizations concerned with mental health and psycho-social disability from a human rights position, we are appalled at the high levels of ignorance some stakeholders are exhibiting on mental health. We are further disturbed that individuals who should help vulnerable young women to access crucial support services to enhance their mental wellbeing are instead abusing them through the media.
We are sending a wake-up call to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services to sit up and perform their roles to ensure that mental health services are accessible at community level and that individuals experiencing mental health breakdowns in the community are attended to through community-based support systems as envisioned in the Mental Health Act of 2019.
Furthermore, we want the public to know that exploiting a person with a mental disability for personal gain is unlawful and can attract serious sanctions under the law. Sections 5 and 6 of the Mental Health Act provides that, “a person, shall respect, safeguard the dignity, and uphold the rights of a mental patient –
6. (1) A person shall not discriminate against a mental patient.
(2) A person shall not exploit or subject a mental patient to abusive, violent or degrading treatment including their gender-based aspects.
(3) A person shall not call a mental patient by a derogatory name on account of a disability of that mental patient.”
Those who take advantage of girls and women with mental and intellectual disabilities should be brought to book and punished as prescribed by the law. Those who indulge in any form of sexual exploitation of girls and women with mental disabilities should be investigated and brought to book and made to support and maintain the innocent children they father.
The coming of the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for persons with mental disabilities as the cost of medications have gone up, access to treatment and periodic reviews is constrained among other factors. We need to urgently invest adequate resources in mental health which should be at par with physical health services.
The current allocation in the health budget towards mental health still lingers around one percent a situation which is unacceptable especially under this new dawn administration. We demand that the Minister of Health Honourable Sylvia Masebo, MP, should immediately establish the Mental Health Council and ensure that it is funded.
We need to have deliberate programmes to address the high levels of alcohol and substance abuse in the communities by the youth and increasingly by girls and women. We need more counselling service and rehabilitation centres supported by government to address these social vices that are also causing an increase in crime.
Country men and women especially our social media celebrities, please let’s avoid using social media to verbally and emotionally abuse or attack others because we are all potential victims of mental health diseases. Empathy (understanding, sympathy and compassion) should be the guiding principle whenever we encounter a person with a mental health disease.
The mission of The Commuter Magazine (TCM) is to create more demand for local tourism products and services. Our vision is a road transport sector that is inclusive and protective of commuters especially tourists. TCM is currently creating more demand for HIV Testing and Mental Health Services at bus stations and markets in Lusaka and Livingstone.
Yours in National Service
The Commuter Magazine
Team Leader and Editor