10 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Tendai Chara

ALEXIO Muzariri, an inmate at Tirivanhu Rehabilitation Centre in Ruwa, just outside Harare, paces up and down as he inspects a brood of chicks that he is keeping at the halfway house.

Satisfied that everything is in order, he retreats to the institution’s sitting room, slumping onto a couch that has seen better days.

He is one of the many Zimbabweans that are grappling with mental health.

Recent reports indicate that hospitals and other mental health institutions across the country are reporting a sharp increase in admissions.

The rise in drug-induced mental illnesses is overwhelming the two psychiatric units at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in the capital.

Also suffering the brunt of drug-induced mental illnesses are halfway homes like Tirivanhu, which are being overwhelmed by patients seeking admission.

In fact, unfortunate patients are now being turned away from some of the mental health facilities as they are now full.

Tirivanhu, and other similar institutions, is a centre that accommodates patients recovering from severe and persistent mental health disorders.

The centre, which has a capacity to accommodate only 16 inmates, sometimes has as many as 100 patients from across the country seeking admission.

While causes of mental illness vary, authorities indicate that most of the cases are now due to increased intake of illicit drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as “mutoriro”, “dombo” or “guka”.

Indications that at least 100 young men and women appeared at the Harare Magistrates’ Court in the past three months for either possessing or dealing in illicit drug paints a gloomy picture.

The figures could be much higher as some cases are yet to be detected in the ongoing anti-drug campaign being spearheaded by the police.

Sally Mugabe Central Hospital psychiatric unit clinical director Dr Hopewell Mungani said the advent of coronavirus made it impossible for the institution to gather actual statistics of patients that require admission.

According to the United Nations, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted critical mental health services in 93 percent of countries worldwide.

“As you might be aware, movement was restricted during the lockdown and some of the people that might have wanted to be admitted in our psychiatric unit might have failed to do so.

It is, therefore, a challenge for us to compile information relating to whether there has been an increase or decrease in mental health cases,” Dr Mungani said.

Besides drugs, there are also biological, psychological and environmental factors that cause mental illness.

Psychological factors include severe trauma suffered as child, such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse; an important early loss of a parent; and neglect or poor ability to relate to others.

Death or divorce, a dysfunctional family, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, loneliness, social and cultural expectations, including substance abuse, can also trigger the same challenge.

Dr Charles Doro, a psychologist who works with the Parirenyatwa Council for Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe, an organisation which represents the interests of mental health patients, attributed the rising numbers in drug-induced mental illness to multiple factors.

“A lot of factors, among them depression, peer pressure, emotional problems and family conflicts, are forcing people into substance abuse. Those that abuse drugs end up developing mental health challenges,” Dr Doro said.

With the month of October being World Mental Health Month and today being World Mental Health Day, The Sunday Mail Society interviewed inmates at rehabilitation centres, including mental health experts.

Mike Mucharuza, a mental health patient, chronicled how he ended up in a mental healthcare facility.

“For a long time, I was having family problems that culminated in me becoming a drug addict. I then developed mental health challenges that resulted in me being admitted to an institution,” he said.

Another recovering drug addict said they are turning to dangerous substances such as crystal meth due to the high cost of standard clear and opaque beer.

“In my case, I am not employed and cannot afford to buy beer. I take illicit drugs because they are affordable,” said a man who identified himself as Smart.


Although some people that are suffering from mental health challenges are roaming the streets without getting the much-needed treatment, Leonard Matsvo, another inmate, is glad to be receiving help.

He is currently studying towards attaining a certificate in motor mechanics at Ruwa Vocational Training Centre despite being admitted at a local mental institution in the same area.

“I am receiving crucial treatment, which has made it possible for me to realise my dream,” he said.

Mental health institutions that are registered under the auspices of the Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health (ZIMNAMH) prepare patients for life outside the halfway homes.

A local company, Ngoda Ovens, has partnered with some of the institutions in rehabilitation programmes by donating baking ovens and taking inmates through baking lessons.

“I cannot wait to go home and bake for my family. I didn’t know that baking is this easy and exciting,” said a visibly delighted inmate, Miss Mavis Moyo.

Mr Aaron Chikukuza from Ngoda Ovens said there is need for families and companies to support those that are facing such health challenges.

“A lot of people have a tendency of writing off those that will be suffering from mental health issues. But, those that are facing mental health challenges can be productive. Giving them something to do often helps to quicken their recovery,” Mr Chikukuza said.

Miss Tatenda Nyakudya, a social worker, added that patients require support and care just like everyone else.

“We have had instances where those that would have been released from mental health institutions revert back to drug abuse and in the end encounter the same mental challenges that they would have recovered from. Mental patients need our love and support for them to fully recover and not relapse again.”

In some instances, there are cases of people who are not even aware that they suffer from mental illness.

Some even blame witchcraft or evil spirits for the condition and in turn only seek help from traditional and faith healers.

But, Mr Timothy Sithole, the ZIMNAMH programmes manager, argues against this.

“We still have people who prefer to take those that will be facing mental health challenges to either traditional or faith healers. My advice to such people is that they must first seek a medical solution before trying other things,” he advised.

Similarly, Dr Rebecca Chisamba, a social commentator and television host, encouraged communities to stop shunning those suffering from mental health challenges.

“We have instances in which mental health patients are neglected and end up losing their lives to harsh weather conditions and exposure to dangerous situations. As parents, we must sit down with our children and teach them about the dangers that are related to drug abuse,” she said.

Online sources indicate that there is a huge gap between the need and availability of mental health services across the world, and Zimbabwe is no exception.

Zimbabwe launched the Mental Health Strategic Plan in 2019.

The Zimbabwe Special Initiative for Mental Health Strategic Framework was developed and launched early this year.

The United Nations Resident Co-ordinator for Zimbabwe, Dr Maria Ribeiro, is on record saying many people with mental health issues are suffering in silence.


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