MentalCare has been launched in the United Kingdom (UK) as a platform to help health professionals and journalists in Malawi to create awareness on improving people’s reaction to mental health and their mental wellbeing.
The brains behind the initiative, UK-based mental health specialist Gerald Namwaza Banda, a former journalist who worked for The Daily Times as business editor, said in an interview that he launched the chairity, MentalCare, after noting that mental health issues are generally misunderstood, ignored, underreported and misreported in Malawi.
He observed that scores of people are at risk of the disease of the mind.
Said Namwaza Banda: “Mental health issues are often ignored in the society in all spheres and angles of life and people are dying in silence from this scourge.
“Everyone’s mental health fluctuates. We all have periods of low mood, stress and anxiety. But it becomes a mental health problem once this carries on over a long period of time, affecting the way you live and think, making it hard to cope at times.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four people experience mental health problems every year across the globe.
Namwaza Banda, who works for National Health Service (NHS) England in East Midlands, says he decided to launch MentalCare because he felt duty-bound to help out in a small way to the people of Malawi both as a mental health specialist and a journalist.
He said: “Mental health is a widespread and common issue affecting people from all walks of life yet we often find it hard to talk about it.
“This is why the media and healthcare professionals need to come together and help people understand the need to talk about mental health issues publicly.”
Namwaza Banda said he has received support from mental health stakeholders and the media in the UK and would like to engage Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter and the Ministry of Health for a working partnership that will include training local journalists on reporting mental health issues.
In an interview, Misa Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga said the initiative was welcome and that her organisation was ready to work with MentalCare.
She said mental health is one of the most neglected and underreported areas in Malawi, noting that there are some serious issues about mental health that are emerging.
Said Ndanga: “We definitely see the need for us to engage journalists more on the subject. We would like to partner experts in the field who would help to ensure journalists are more knowledgeable and develop essential skills to write on the subject.”
Mental health services in Malawi date back to 1910. They were initially managed by the prison services but in 1951 the responsibility was transferred to the Ministry of Health.
In 1953, a national psychiatric hospital was opened in Zomba. It has 333 beds and admits between 1 500 and 2 000 patients annually. There are also other in-patient psychiatric facilities at Bwaila Hospital and Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe while in Mzuzu, the Catholic Church runs a facility called St John of God which provides community and in-patient services.