Medical practitioners at the mental health research and practice development conference taking place in Blantyre have cited depression as the major cause of mental health problems.
The doctors have since called for the need to invest in training of more psychologists. With a population of over 17. 5 million, Malawi has only three psychologists.
While acknowledging improved awareness on mental health issues in the country, the medical practitioners bemoaned lack of psychologists in the country’s major hospitals leading to poor accessibility to such services.
Speaking in an interview on Monday, keynote speaker at the two-day conference, Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe said cases of mental health problems are growing and warrant national attention.
Said Bandawe: “Mental health disorders are a growing concern and the need for professionals to service its need is really quite great. The services are available in central public facilities and some practitioners in private practice but psychologists are not there; the more they are there, the more people will be able to access such services.”
Apart from depression, Bandawe cited alcohol and substance abuse, psychosocial conflicts, psychosocial tension, financial challenges as some of the causes of mental health problems.
Other mental health issues include anxiety disorders, dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
College of Medicine (CoM) Principal Dr. Mwapatsa Mipando said on its part, the college is developing a Masters in Clinical Psychology as well as training a number of psychiatrics to improve access to mental health services.
Mipando further said all students in post graduate programmes are also being trained in issues of psychology so that they are able to handle such cases in their respective duty stations.
Mipando said although it is an expensive programme, they are doing their best to provide the country with enough psychologists. He added that people are beginning to recognize that mental health issues are quite a big problem in the country.
“Currently we are training six more psychologists that will be based in Malawi. Resources need to be put in place for mental health. We also need to encourage people to seek help whenever they face such challenges,” he said.
Studies in Malawi have shown prevalence of depression in Primary care clinic attendees is 20 percent, depression in mothers is 10-15 percent. Severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder affect about one percent of the population.