Investing the Minds

Words by Brian  Otieno

Juma was always seen picking papers on the streets and running around the village chanting best of his lingo. His was a world of imagination and laughter, a euphoric world he made for himself. Mostly happy, ever smiling and in rare states, he’d be furious and aggressive to the villagers. "Madness" we called it, "crazy" some said, lunatic, hallucination, weakness, witchcraft, demons and to some print it as a curse from God. This is a discussion or rather a parley that for the longest time has had its own backlash and forthcomings. "Mental Wellness", has had its fair share on us and with time it’s becoming more and more evident that it’s not only for the chosen few.

Globally, around 1-in-7 people (15%) have one or more mental or substance use disorders. It’s estimated that 970 million people worldwide had a mental or substance use disorder in 2017. The largest number of people had an anxiety disorder, estimated at around 4 percent of the population (Our World in Data: Hanna and Marx, 2018).

Currently an estimated 450 million people, most of whom live in poverty and are from Low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), experience serious mental health challenges. With only one psychiatrist per million people in sub-Saharan Africa, more evidence-based and dignified treatment has been out of reach for the vast majority. In many countries, 90% of people with mental illness have no access to treatment. Even where they do, that “treatment” can often be ineffective, painful and more likely to be harmful than helpful, as the recent Human Rights Watch report on mental health in Nigeria highlighted Mental Health in Africa.

With this year’s theme being Greater Investment, Greater Access: Investments in Mental Health, it calls for various approaches that will bring forth a pool of resources to rework the mental health situation in Sub-Saharan Africa. It will take more than just investing, but a strong political will to have this as a reality.

Mental Health should not only be climbing the rank of health priorities but also given a focus of integration into other health systems likes Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. To achieve a greater investment returns in Sub-Saharan Africa. Integration will be key and learning from already grounded health programs within the African health systems context.

With UHC currently being the big talk on health systems, communities have a major role to play with attention given to Community based Health care approaches to mental health. It takes more than just Bio-medical interventions to addressing mental health, community contribution is key.

As we commemorate World mental Health Day 2020, let’s call for more investment on Community Based Services and strengthening the community system through increased awareness, advocacy and capacity building on mental health. There is no health without Mental Health.