According to the World Health Organization (WHO), neuropsychiatric disorders contribute 6.1% of the total disease burden in Cameroon. Sadly, mental health problems are not given much attention as other health issues.
Mental health experts say persons suffering from mental health problems or psycho-social problems should seek proper health care in health facilities early.
The experts held the first Mental Health and Psycho-social Disability Policy Forum (MEPOF) in Yaoundé on December 3. Discussions focused on the theme, “Mental Health Legislation: Key to Peace and Sustainable Development”.
The Mental Health and Psycho-social Disability Policy Forum was organized by @PositiveyouthAf and the African Initiative for Health and Research Promotion(AIHRP), to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Representatives of the executive, legislative and judiciary arm of the government were present at the forum.
WHO’s preamble to the 1946 constitution states that “the right to health is a fundamental part of our human rights, and of our understanding of a life of dignity”.
Accordingly, experts say the rights of mental health patients should be respected, regardless of their health condition.
Mental health vs Psycho-social issue
As a result of the #COVID19 pandemic, and the three humanitarian crises in the North West and South West Regions , and the Boko Haram atrocities in the North, more persons in Cameroon are reported to be suffering from psycho-social problems, often confused with mental health problems.
Christian Bela Zomo, Chief of Service for the promotion of mental health and Psychiatric in the Public Health Ministry, says seeking a solution to mental health issues must start with understanding the disease.
“ Mental health is a state of wellbeing which should not be confused with a mental disease. Refugees for example rather struggle with psycho-social problems. They have a lot of needs which destabilizes them because they left their homes to settle elsewhere”.
Best practices in mental health management
Most persons suffering from mental health in Cameroon are often chained or abandoned to roam the streets . They usually look tar-tarred, and helpless. When family members think of seeking a solution, their first resort is often a native doctor or a pastor. In the absence of a solution, the hospital becomes a last resort.
Franca Ma-ih Sulem Yong, President of the Afrogiveness movement says experts will provide appropriate care , but mental health patients can be fully involved in their journey to recovery.
“Breathing and mindfulness and forgiveness are some techniques to manage mental health problems. In extreme cases, it is very necessary to see a psychiatrist or psychologist”.
Beyond consulting specialists, the Afrogiveness President is bothered about a policy legislation in favor of mental health patients in Cameroon. She says
“Since 2018, Afrogiveness and the African Initiative for Health and Research Promotion(AIHRP) have been working hand in hand to create platforms where refugees and victims of war can access high quality psycho-medical support. We continue to provide psycho-social care to survivors of conflicts. In the years to come , we are hoping to get a stand-alone mental health policy legislation in Cameroon. That will happen with the collaboration of public health legislators and civil society organizations”
Christian Bela Zomo, Chief of Service for the promotion of mental health and Psychiatric in the Public Health Ministry, also cautions mental health patients against seeking cosmetic solutions.
“We can be overwhelmed by a problem. It becomes very important to meet a mental health specialist to help us out because we can’t handle the situation on our own . We should not indulge in auto-medication. The experts are better placed to provide solutions to mental health issues”.
Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry has begun to provide health care to mental health patients who have been roaming the streets. According to the Chief of Service for the promotion of mental health and Psychiatric, most of them have been taken off the streets and are responding to treatment at the Jamot hospital in Yaoundé .
Kathy Neba Sina