We have a good policy on mental health; now let’s match it with resources

Tuesday February 19 2019


Government data indicate few people with mental issues are seeking professional support. FOTOSEARCH 

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The Rwanda Mental Health Survey 2018 released by Rwanda Biomedical Centre shows a disturbing mismatch between cases of mental disorders and available resources to support sufferers of this increasing health burden.

Ministry of Health officials say that last year about 223,500 people consulted for mental disorders with 10 per cent of these being new cases.

Rwanda has only one referral neuro-psychiatric hospital, CARES Ndera. Its officials decry limited space and specialists in mental health.

On a typical day, receives 160 outpatients and 300 inpatients. Several frontline professionals told Rwanda Today that the mental health sector suffers a great deal of neglect from all fronts due to stigma. The fact that The Rwanda Mental Health Survey Report 2018 is the latest since post- traumatic stress survey 2009, confirms these arguments.

This stigma against the mentally ill need to stop and core responsibility in arresting the situation lies withgovernment.

Globally, WHO reports that 450 million persons worldwide who suffer mental health conditions, 60 per cent do not receive any form of care and many of them in developing countries.

Progress has been made with a mental health policy that roots for decentralisation and integration of mental health care, but this should be accompanied with requisite resources.

There is a need to introduce a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach to address mental health promotion, prevention, treatment, care and recovery.

It is cyclical: Experiencing disadvantage and adversity increases the risk of mental health problems and experiencing mental health problems increases the risk of experiencing disadvantage. Mental health problems can create a spiral of adversity where related factors such as employment, income and relationships are impacted.

These things, in turn, are known to compound and entrench mental health problems. Therefore, given the scale of the problem, the government cannot do it alone. It also needs the society to be proactive.

However, the government can play a catalytic role particularly in raisng funds to support programmes for people with mental health issues.

Some of the measures, say, creating safe spaces for people with mental illness to recover. Isolating people with mental illnesses makes it extremely difficult for patients to cope.

Government data indicate few people with mental issues are seeking professional support. One of the reasons for this is stigma, because once victims realise they are isolated they develop a strong “self-stigma” –worsening prospects of recovery.

A lot of ground can be covered with a campaign to make the general public more tolerant and receptive of people with mental illness. More importantly, there has to be focus on emotional well-being which begins with making mental health a top public health priority.