– Ndapwa Alweendo
Anxiety, stress and depression are some of the most common mental health concerns around the world. They can be triggered by many things, and living through a pandemic is one of them. During this year, Namibians have had to deal with more intense worries about finding/keeping jobs, keeping loved ones and family safe, and a huge amount of uncertainty about the future. All of these concerns can increase feelings of stress and anxiety, and have a negative effect on mental health.
Mental health is not a new phenomenon though: thousands of Namibians have sought help for conditions, whether chronic (long-trm or recurring) or acute (severe but over a short period of time). Treatments can range from counselling or therapy sessions, to psychiatric medications to treat symptoms, to hospitalisation in extreme cases when people need specialised care. But how do we pay for this treatment? Only 17 percent of Namibians have access to medical aid, more than 2 million people rely on public health resources funded by the government.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services received almost N$ 8 billion in this year’s budget, about 12 percent of the total budget. But a look at budget documents reveals that mental health is not a priority for the government. In fact, there is no specific mention of mental health in publicly available budget documents. And since the Covid-19 pandemic response is (reasonably) the main priority right now, mental health falls to the wayside even more.
There isn’t a lot of data about mental health in Namibia, including exactly how much is spent on it, but there is no denying that accessibility is a major concern. Currently, the only government-run centres dedicated to mental health are on Windhoek and Oshakati. People in other regions need to look for treatment at local hospitals or clinics, and get a referral to access one of these centres. Medication, when people need it, is another cost. And for people looking for private care, psychologist visits can cost as much as N$2,000.00 per session.
More than ever, we need to challenge the myths about mental illness that prevent people from seeking support and treatment. Mental illness is not caused by witchcraft, it is not contagious, and it is not a sign of personal weakness. We are living through a pandemic and that puts a lot of pressure on our mental state. Feeling more intense emotions is completely normal and understandable. Feelings of anxiety, restlessness and depression are perfectly normal, and it is important that people know how to reach out.
It is just as important that, when people reach out to friends and family, they receive emotional support. Creating a community that welcomes people struggling with their mental health can be a huge help, and take some of the pressure off public resources. Below are some mental health resources to keep on hand.
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