Mental health in developing countries

Let us discuss the facts about mental health in developing countries. In developing countries, there is little information or research on mental health. If it does, I’m predicting it’s only a handful! In developing countries, there is little or no mental health awareness and advocacy. The World Health Organization launched Project Atlas to catalog mental health resources around the world. The Project conducted a survey and discovered the following findings:; 41% have no mental health policy, 25% have no legislation on mental health, 28% have no separate budget for mental health, 41% do not have treatment facilities for severe mental disorders in primary health care, 37% have no community health care facilities…[2]

There are numerous types of mental disorders, each with its own set of symptoms. They are generally distinguished by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior, and interpersonal relationships[1]. They include but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders such as autism.

According to a statement by Gro Harlem Brundland, M.D., Director General of the WHO, he mentions that “mental health — neglected for far too long — is crucial to the overall well-being of individuals, societies, and countries and must be universally regarded in a new light”…[2]

The ignorance about mental health

One of the most common mental disorders is depression. It is the main cause of disability worldwide–Globally, an estimated 264 million people are affected by depression…[1] It is characterized by sadness, loss of interest or happiness, feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, loss of sleep or appetite, fatigue, and inability to concentrate.

There is a blanket of ignorance about mental health in developing countries. Growing up, I had never heard the term “depression”; instead, we referred to that kind of state of mind as “sad.” People would tell you to snap out of it or grow up no matter how long you were sad. The term “SAD” is simple; everyone experiences sadness; therefore, it was never taken seriously that being sad for a longer period has its own term: depression. Yes, depression is unheard of in most developing countries; you had to be a robot and resilient — you had to be strong or drink your misery. Emotions are undervalued; it’s as if everyone is a walking machine that follows whatever society dictates. There were no questions asked! Oh, wait…regardless of how inquisitive one’s mind may be, who are you going to ask the questions to? There are no answers because mental illness is uncommon in these societies and cultures.

People in developing countries are left with wandering minds, more akin to a state of limbo when you know there’s something seriously wrong with you because you can feel it in every inch of your body, and it’s screaming at you excruciatingly—becoming louder and louder with time. You, on the other hand, have no idea what is or could be. People in the same environment have no notion what’s going on, so they resort to making fun of it. Is it possible to blame them? No, they have no idea what they’re doing. They find it amusing, but also strange because it is unusual. How long will this be amusing? Is it only a matter of time before more people die as a result of mental illness? Because there is no concept of mental illness in developing countries, more lives that could have been saved will be lost. My heart bleeds as I write this; I feel the agony of both ignorance and insight. Knowing right now is intensely painful.

When you live in ignorance, there is no suffering– the pain comes when you understand what is.

I recall my cousin sister from when I was younger before I emigrated to the United States of America from Uganda. She was one of the brightest persons I’d ever met, and she was a strong young woman. She motivated me to succeed in whatever I set my mind to since that’s exactly what she did: she succeeded at everything. She was a straight-A student who was constantly at the top of her class and set records at every school she attended. She began to detach randomly just before starting college. She couldn’t hold a conversation and went from one subject to the next, with no beginning or conclusion to what she said. The sweet girl was slowly dissipating. It got to the point where whatever was going on with her became so threatening that those around her picked up on something strange. They could hear her shouts, see her wilt, and sense her agony at not knowing. Regardless, they were at a loss for what to do. They took her to doctors, but nothing appeared to be wrong with her physically. They offered her some medications, but nothing seemed to improve her condition. They took her church in the hopes of enlisting the help of an exorcist, but nothing seemed to alter. Trying to make it to the next sunrise day after day. People who cared about her were left roaming in the wilderness, trying to figure out what was wrong but only finding dead ends. Uncertainty paralyzed her every day, and whatever ailment she had progressed on a daily basis. Later, the family opted to take her to the country’s only known psychiatric facility. Unfortunately, it was too late when the hospital called in a flash to inform her that she had passed away.

What occurred in the psychiatric facility? Did they assess her and run tests to figure out what’s wrong with her? Or did they simply give her some medicines to mask her signs and symptoms? Were there any certified psychiatric doctors on hand, or were the nurses doing the best they could in the absence of any doctors? What happened is that in underdeveloped nations, there is such little/no knowledge of mental health disorders that by the time persons with these conditions are transported to the hospital, there is no longer room for survival.

Several factors may influence the prevalence of mental health in developing countries. Some examples include language barriers, a lack of mental health resources, misconceptions and stigma surrounding mental disorders, and so on.

“We need to recognize that there is no health without mental health.”

Prince M, Patel V, Saxena S, Maj M, Maselko H, Phillips M, et al. No
health without mental health. Lancet. 2007;370(9590):859-877. https://doi.
org/10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61238-0

References

[1]“Mental Disorders.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders.

[2]“What’s in a Word? Taking the Measure of Thoughts in Schizophrenia.” Psychiatric Times, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/whats-in-a-word-taking-the-measure-of-thoughts-in-schizophrenia.

13 thoughts on “Mental health in developing countries”

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