October 14, 2020

In commemoration of World Mental Health Day: Mental Health for all


Mental health includes individuals emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how…

Avatar: Zemen Mekonnen
By Zemen Mekonnen

Zemen Mekonnen is a Content Creater at Addis Zeybe. She is a graduate from Addis Abeba University School of Law and Governance.

Mental health includes individuals emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how one thinks, feels and acts. It benefits to determine how stress is handled, how one relates to others, and makes choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life and critical for the building and sustenance of a society and is integral to living a healthy, balanced life. Addis Zeybe interviewed Dr. Yonas Lakew a specialized doctor in Amanuel Mental specialised hospital, the only government institution in Ethiopia specializing in Mental health.

Doctor Yonas while describing the importance of mental health mentioned “mental health is a very important phenomena in a society since it allows individuals to lead a full life and reach their potentials in their day to day life.” Emotional and mental health is important because it’s a vital part of our life and impacts our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity.
World Mental health day is celebrated every year to educate people on mental health, raise awareness for mental illnesses, and reduce the associated stigma. It was begun in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries and is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) based on its strong relationships with ministries of health and civil society organizations across the globe. Emotional and mental health is important because it’s a vital part of one’s life and impacts one’s thoughts, behaviours and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of one’s relationships, and allows one to adapt to changes in life and cope with adversity.
Mental health promotion is key. The topic of mental wellbeing and mental illness must be discussed rigorously through different mechanisms. Activities that improve psychological well-being and mental health could be to promoting what exactly is mental health, including early childhood interventions; support to children; socio-economic empowerment of women; social support for elderly populations; programmes targeted at vulnerable people; mental health promotional activities in schools; mental health interventions at work; housing policies; violence prevention programmes; and anti-discrimination laws and campaigns. Mental health promotion should be mainstreamed into governmental and nongovernmental policies and programmes. In addition to the health sector, it is essential to involve the education, labour, justice, transport, environment, housing, and welfare sectors.
It’s not uncommon for people to misunderstand mental illness. In the same way we educate communities about physical health concerns such as heart disease, it’s critical that we start conversations about what mental illness is, how to recognize it and the fact that it is a treatable illness. Although knowledge about Mental Health has improved in recent years, Ethiopia is still surrounded by lack of awareness and stigma. Dr. Yonas provided that “the level of awareness about mental health is very low in our community. Mental illness level varies from mild to severe and people often come to the hospital when they have reached a critical stage.” Neurodevelopmental disorders in Ethiopia are largely viewed as a curse. People with these disorders are often hidden from society. In addition to the lack of special services for them, their isolation often leads to their poor health and nutrition.

Lack of mental health specialists outside the capital, Addis Ababa, and the poor quality of services provided for mental, neurological and substance use disorders. Records show people suffering from mental illness are often the most marginalized and affected by stigma and discrimination. Dr Yonas further provides “there is an abundant lack of institutions dealing with mental health and well being. Unless it is in major cities around Ethiopia, rural areas lack mental health providing institutions and that is very dangerous because mental illness can happen to everyone and everywhere.”

Viewing this year’s mental health theme, “mental health for all” Ethiopia has a long way to go. There is a severe lack of diagnostic and educational services for individuals with mental health problems and their families; facilities are almost non-existent in rural areas. Apart from a need for an increase in service provision, there is a clear need for culturally and contextually appropriate diagnostic instruments. Doctor Yonas adds to this point saying “the government needs to pay attention to the matter. Mental health is far from being accessible to all and institutions well equipped with infrastructural and technical components are essential. Government needs to invest both finance and interest in the matter and make it accessible to the general public.”

In Ethiopia limitations to mental health care services include the unequal distribution of mental health resources, problems of accessing services in remote locations, affordability, and social acceptability in relation to ignorance and belief systems. Families often have to make out-of-pocket payments for these services due to non-availability of social support systems. According to research conducted for the Oxford Academic on may 2009, it is estimated that about 25 million Ethiopians suffer some form of mental disorder, while less than 10 per cent receive any form of treatment, and less than one percent receive specialist care.

Integration of mental healthcare into non-specialist settings is advocated to expand access to care for people with severe low-income countries. There are several advantages to treating common mental health problems in primary care and other priority health care programs. Incorporating mental health care into primary care can achieve high levels of coverage in a rural African setting, which is equitable with respect to gender and socio-economic status. Service outreach into the community may be needed to achieve better contact coverage for rural residents. To overcome problems of low coverage of mental health service in Ethiopia ministry of health is practising community-based mental health services including integration of mental health service at primary health care (PHC) level. Dr. Yonas provides “ along with integration of mental health service in other clinics and hospitals it is also important to develop and enhance specialised mental health centers.”

Mental wellness should be regularly spoken about and research should be done to improve the communities understanding of it and to increase its availability. In order to combat the taboo beliefs about mental illness, proper facts and figures along with educating information needs to be passed to the general public in various outreach programs and platforms. The awareness created on HIV can be taken as a good example here. The media should not support the stigma and taboo about mental illness by spreading false beliefs about the matter which could have a serious negative impact on the understanding of mental illness by the public. This not only will create positive awareness towards mental illness but it will also allow the public to understand and assist people with mental illness. Doctor Yonas further adds to this point by stating “the media is an important part of our day to day life and they can help increase the public's awareness about mental health. The more the subject is less a taboo, the more people will take caution about their mental health and reach .”