Lack of knowledge about mental disorders in the community leads to perpetuation of stigma and discrimination.



By Dr T.W Ngwenya Changamire


Mental health is not just the absence of a mental disorder. Mental health as defined by the World Health organisation as a state of wellbeing in which an individual is able to realise their own abilities, it is an ability to cope with the normal stresses of life and it is also an ability to work productively and fruitfully while contributing positively to your community.

Mental health is a state of emotional, social and psychological wellbeing. Mental health is crucial in achieving an overall state of health.

There is no health without mental health. Mental health conditions are on the rise.

This calls for a need to raise awareness of mental health.

Unfortunately, because of lack of knowledge about mental disorders and how they present mental disorders are left unrecognised by individuals, friends and family and many people are left untreated.

This results in people becoming severely debilitated and unable to perform or cope with their normal daily duties. A child may end up dropping out from school because of poor concentration abilities, a parent may lose his or her job because of substance abuse or depression which leads to poor performance at work.

They may end up committing suicide because of ongoing social stressors that led to depression. Depression left untreated in some cases may result in suicide. These are just but a few examples of the consequences of untreated mental conditions.



Lack of knowledge about mental disorders in the community leads to judgement towards those who suffer from it and perpetuation of stigma and discrimination. Mental illness affects all age groups. It does not discriminate.

Conversations around mental disorders have to start now. Conversations around the importance of mental health also have to start.

If more and more people get to know about mental disorders and how they present and also about the long term consequences of untreated disorders more people in the community will be able to seek mental health screening and treatment and this will result in early initiation of treatment.

Early initiation of treatment will prevent the negative consequences of untreated mental health conditions. We can all contribute to raising mental health awareness and ending the stigma associated with mental illness by getting informed.

Mental illnesses

These are conditions that will affect your emotional state, the way you think and the way you behave. If one of us is seen to be having a sudden or even maybe a gradual deterioration in function, a change in behaviour or emotional pattern we should begin to start considering the possibility of a mental disorder.

Mental illness or disorders are grouped into;

  • Anxiety disorders,
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders,
  • Psychotic disorders,
  • Substance use disorders and
  • Mood disorders which include Bipolar disorder and depression,

The causes

Mental illness are multifactorial.

The three main contributors to development of mental disorders area a genetic predisposition to developing mental disorders or family history, psychological disturbances, social stressors or a lack of social support.

These contributors are often referred to as biopsychosocial contributors and so when we treat mental illness we also take a biopsychosocial approach.



How common are they?

In SA 1 in 6 Adults are estimated to suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems according to data presented by the South African college of applied Psychology (2018).

It is also estimated that 40% of South Africans living with HIV/AIDS have a comorbid mental disorder, 41% of pregnant women are depressed and 60% could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Compared to the sub-Saharan Africa region, Zimbabwe has a similar prevalence for the common mental health disorders which are Substance use disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder except Major depressive disorder which is slightly more prevalent across the region.

Suicide rates are higher in men compared to females in Zimbabwe. This is according to the Zimbabwe WHO Special initiative country report. (2020)

Women are more prone to experiencing mental disorders. Women are also recipients of physical and sexual abuse and more women are exposed to gender-based violence which may have long term impacts on mental health. Common conditions affecting women include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression.

I have highlighted that more women suffer from mental illness however this does not mean that men are not significantly affected by mental illness. Mental illness is on the rise and it is both males and females and all age groups; children, adolescents and adults.




Treatment options take into account the contributors and may include therapy sessions with psychologists and social workers and may also include the use of medication like antidepressants, antianxiety and antipsychotic agents.

As indicated earlier mental illness is on the rise especially in these Covid-19 times where many people have experienced losses. It maybe job loss, friends and some family members may have succumbed to the disease or may have suffered a near death experience from Covid-19 infection, a child may have lost a parent.

The lockdown regulations although necessary to reduce the spread of disease have resulted in minimised person interaction time and disrupted the much required social support system that is required in maintaining mental health.

The permanent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our mental health is yet to be described but it is evident that it has made people more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

There is need for constant reassuring to the community that mental illness does not mean mental incapacitation or permanent disability. There is no reason to live in shame or defer getting treatment. There is also need for the community to come together and end the stigma associated with mental illness.



Just as there is physical ill-health so does mental ill-health exist. Early intervention for both physical and mental ill-health improves health outcomes and saves lives.

Get screened for mental illness by a psychologist or a doctor as untreated mental illness may be disabling. Remember if unsure always go for screening!

We will continue our series on mental illness in the month of October.  Stay informed and join the fight to end the stigma against mental illness.

Know it, recognise it and respond to it


Contact All In 4 Health – By Dr TW Ngwenya Changamire – for General Medical Consultation, health screening, medical check-up, health education and promotion. The Glen Marais Shopping Centre, 57 Veld Street, Glen Marais, Kempton park 1619





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