aAlone, struggling to pay the course fees and often hungry, Favor Omar was 18 years old when she attempted suicide. She was studying at a university Malawi Contrary to the wishes of her parents, who wanted her to marry or get a job.
“I couldn’t see any way out of my situation,” says Omar, one of a growing number of young Malays who are feeling isolated and struggling with their mental health.
While there are no official numbers, health workers and support groups have noticed a significant rise in cases over the past two or three years.
A recent study by researchers from the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary University of London and Millennium University in Blantyre for a “vicious cycle of poverty and mental health problems” for Malawian youth.
“There is a lack of youth-friendly mental health services in the country,” says Mercy Mkandawire, founder of youth organization iMind. “It’s hard for young people to visit mental health institutions because they don’t want to be labeled crazy.”
So most young people keep their struggle to themselves. She said poverty and unemployment are common contributors to mental health problems among young people.
Created in 2018 to support people between the ages of 10 and 30, iMind offers referrals to the few support services available and campaigns to raise mental health awareness and funding for services.
In 2020, it was launched new minds, a radio show covering issues such as depression and eating disorders. Experts and volunteers were invited to share their experiences with anxiety or substance abuse. iMind says the show has more than 35,000 listeners, most of whom are under 30 years old.
Omar, who graduated this year and now works in marketing, says the program “saved my life”.
“The program also opened my mind [to] How do I know that someone is about to commit suicide and how can I help that person.” “It really changed my life and I am now an advocate for it.”
Chiyosa Bandawi, Professor of Psychology at Kamuzu University health Sciences, He said mental health issues are often seen as an “integral part of life,” but “if it’s not treated, it gets to a certain point where people really give up and feel they have no more hope.”
“For parents and the older generation, the problem is that they themselves don’t take mental health issues seriously because of their upbringing. Young They are highly tuned to deal with mental health issues [in part] Because of social media. Parents must be educated.”
St John of God Community Services provides mental health services to young people in the capital, Lilongwe, and the northern city of Mzuzu. Since last year, the charity has seen the number of young people accepted into the rehab program rise from 25 per month to 40.
Charles Masolani, the company’s chief executive, says more young people are turning to alcohol or drugs when they face difficult life challenges.
“In places like Lilongwe, you find young girls drinking alcohol or even taking cocaine. In the [city’s] Main market, some young people take pethidine [opioid pain-relief] The ones we use in hospitals, they get it without a prescription. More than a decade ago, these drugs could only be accessed by hospital patrons. They make you feel so good and you get addicted easily,” he says.
Masolani says Malawi needs more trained counselors and psychologists.
The country, with a population of 20 million, has only one public mental health facility; In the hospital in the town of Zumba is one psychiatrist. St John of God has a mental health facility in Lilongwe with two psychiatrists, and two others work at the University of Malawi Medical School.
“These days we encourage treatment [mental health] without medication because [causes] They are more psychological…but we need more psychosocial counselors and therapists.
Chilungamo M’manga, a lecturer at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, says the number of girls seeking support from her organisation, Mentor to Mentor, has risen from less than four per week before 2020 to 15 per week during the Covid pandemic.
“And when school started, the numbers coming to us started to rise,” she says. “The number of people who seek help in terms of failing to deal with some psychosocial problems is a lot.”
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