End mental health discrimination

On World Mental Health Day last week, challenges facing such patients came into sharper focus.

14 October 2020 | Health



A safe haven for Namibians suffering from mental illnesses, the Oshakati State Hospital psychiatric centre has changed the lives of about 26 000 people, and counting.

With a 70-bed capacity, in August, the facility admitted 71 patients.

On a warm Friday afternoon last week when Namibian Sun paid a visit, the centre had 110 in-patients.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people worldwide will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and Dr Benonia Sheetekela says no one should feel ashamed.


From genetic factors to trauma and stress, Dr Moges Admassu said there are several causes for mental illness, and because most people don't know about these causes or how to treat mental illness, they resort to stigmatisation.

In a deeply superstitious and religious society, mentally-ill people are sometimes seen as possessed, while many are dragged to exorcism sessions at charismatic churches, he said.

While not all churches try to pray away mental illness, he added that it is important for religious interventions to be packaged well.

“Churches tell them not to drink their medication. That is wrong. We do not stop patients from going to church, but they should take their medicine and not replace them with prayers,” he said.

Causes of mental illness

Having a family member with mental illness can increase your risk, “however, just because one family member has a mental illness doesn't mean that others will,” Admassu stressed.

Meanwhile, psychological trauma and stress caused by social isolation, domestic violence, relationship breakdowns and financial or work problems can increase the risk of mental illness.

He added that traumatic experiences such as living in a war zone can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Drug and alcohol abuse can also trigger manic episodes or psychosis.

Drugs such as cocaine and marijuana as well as excessive drinking can cause paranoia.

“Before lockdown, we would be admitting four or five people overnight from excessive drinking. Young people who abuse alcohol from an early age are likely to suffer from mental illness,” Admassu warned.

Negative childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect can increase also the risk of some mental illnesses, he added.

Seeing the person, not the illness

In conservative Namibia, getting people to open up about their mental health is a victory in itself, Sheetekela said.

Hilma Ndahangapo*, a 48-year-old unemployed mother of two who began therapy in 2004, suffers from schizophrenia and depression.

“In our culture, you are ridiculed for speaking about your mental health,” she said.

“I was desperate to find someone to talk to about my problems. When I speak to the doctors [at the psychiatric centre], I feel like a load is lifted off my heart.”

Sheetekela encourages people to share their experiences, saying this will help end the stigma attached to mental illness.

“To provide holistic care, you must see the person and not just their illness. You have to treat them as individuals with hopes and dreams. By sharing our experiences, together we can end the stigma.”

Support from families

When Ndahangapo first found her way to the hospital, she was surprised to find she was one of many with similar problems. Now she hates going back home as she feels that is when she gets sick, she said.

She mentioned that at the hospital, they have one-on-one sessions with social workers, who encourage them to speak about their problems and their mental illness.

“I like it here,” she said tearfully. “It makes me feel normal. At home, people treat me like I don't make sense.

While patients are often brought to the facility by family members, it is common for them to be abandoned when they are discharged, Sheetekela said.

“Family members get frustrated while the person recovers as most of them do not want the responsibility of looking after a mental ill patient. It's painful on both sides.”

Life after Covid

When it comes to life post-pandemic, what worries Sheetekela the most is the mental health repercussions.

“In general, stress behaviour for many, many people bring a lot of problems. Just the fact of someone wondering if he/she is positive for Covid-19 or might be retrenched as many people continue to lose their jobs, that affects, of course, one's behaviour,” she said.

“We know very well that panic leads to bad behaviour and to psychosomatic problems as well, and we have to be careful and delicate with how we handle this,” she said.

*Not her real name

[email protected]

Similar News


Saving lives save money

3 days ago - 27 October 2020 | Health

Henriette Lamprecht - Cancer is one of the critical issues causing economic and financial burden in the world today. The disease is taking an enormous...

Voices of imposter syndrome

1 week ago - 23 October 2020 | Health

Do you recall that moment when you were about to apply for that job, attempt that business, speak at that event, advise that expert, organise...

Over 140 Covid positive learners kept on Oshakati SSS...

1 week ago - 23 October 2020 | Health

TUYEIMO HAIDULAOSHAKATI A total of 144 Oshakati Senior Secondary School pupils who have tested positive for Covid-19 are being kept at the school...

Covid regulations further relaxed as virus eases

1 week ago - 22 October 2020 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES WINDHOEKThe limit on public gatherings has been increased from 50 to 200 people until 30 November, while all travellers arriving...

Find the puzzle pieces and win something pink!

1 week ago - 22 October 2020 | Health

Julienne van RooyenOnce you have collected all four pieces, you can email it along with your answer and contact details to [email protected] and then stand...

Cancer is not a before and after event in...

1 week ago - 20 October 2020 | Health

Henriette Lamprecht – Hearing the words ‘You have cancer’ has a profound effect on a person."Once you hear those words, you can't go back. Your...

Food insecurity on the rise

1 week ago - 20 October 2020 | Health

ERWIN LEUSCHNERSWAKOPMUNDMore than 400 000 Namibians need food aid.This figure was announced by George Fedha, Namibia’s World Food Programme (WFP) representative, when he called on...

Body, heart and mind

1 week ago - 20 October 2020 | Health

Mariselle StofbergThe body-heart-mind virtues of yoga can play a meaningful role in shaping the lives of children of all ages.“Children’s yoga is a topic dear...

Dancing the stress away

1 week ago - 20 October 2020 | Health

Mariselle Stofberg William Stafford once said that children dance even before they know what rhythm, beat and music is. They don’t wait for music...

Turning that frown upside down

1 week ago - 20 October 2020 | Health

Mariselle Stofberg We try to be strong and resilient and positive, but the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives. As adults, we feel unsure, uncertain,...

Latest News

Okonjo-Iweala closer to making history

20 hours ago | Economics

Key WTO ambassadors have tapped Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the best pick to lead the organisation, but she was opposed by the United States. Washington...

How SME businesses can be...

20 hours ago | People

Johanna Kambala 1. Where to find tender opportunitiesThere are various procurement methods identified in the PPA, hence the type of procurement method will determine...

Going back to her roots

20 hours ago | People

Michelline NawatisesSybil Somaes is the managing director of Compli-Serve Namibia, based in Windhoek and has experience primarily spent in Namibian financial services. She was instrumental...

Saints and sinners

20 hours ago | Education

KENYA KAMBOWESHAMBYULearners at one of the top schools in the country, St Boniface College in the Kavango East Region, have described the school’s principal, Mary...

PDM MPs face the chop...

20 hours ago | Politics

STAFF REPORTERWINDHOEKSix Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) members are facing an exit from the National Assembly after the Supreme Court closed a matter in which the...

Tiaan Langenegger

20 hours ago | Art and Entertainment

YANDI DU PLESIS WINDHOEK While South African chef Tiaan Langenegger first made headlines in 2013 when he was crowned the co-winner...

The importance of domestic travel

20 hours ago | People

Michelline NawatisesThe property connoisseurs and award-winning travel bloggers, Lisette and Liselle So-Oabes, share their knowledge in a question-and-answer about travelling.The travel bug bit the two...

Bumper grape harvest expected

20 hours ago | Agriculture

ELLANIE SMITWINDHOEKThe strong growth experienced in the grape sector will not be sufficient to balance the effect of the weak performance of the livestock sector.Therefore,...

Policing is not enough

20 hours ago | Opinion

President Hage Geingob’s admission that gender-based violence, murder, rape, armed robbery and the unabated carnage on the roads are causing great distress all over the...

Load More