Wednesday 21 April 2021
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Teetering economy takes toll on Namibians’ mental health

With Namibia’s financial crisis having led to rising unemployment, homelessness and poverty, a mental health expert has explained the link between financial troubles and mental health.
Psychiatrist and Director of Bel Esprit Mental Health Clinic, Dr Hileni Ndjaba said although a full-scale study has not been conducted to determine the impact of the financial crisis on the mental health of affected persons, its impact on the mental health of those directly affected-especially business owners-is clear for all to see.
According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health report of 2015 “it is still too early to speak about a relationship between the economic crisis and a rise in mental health problems resulting in suicides, there is solid evidence for the existence of such a relationship. However, several moderating or mediating mechanisms can also play a role. The main reactions of most policy makers to the economic crisis are (severe) austerity measures.
These measures seem to have, however, a detrimental effect on the mental health of the population: Just when people have the highest need for mental help, cost-cutting measures in the health care sector lead to a (substantial) drop in the supply of services for the prevention, early detection, and cure of mental health problems.
The situation is much the same in Namibia.
Patients suffering from anxiety, sleep disorders, depression and other maladies are common– many exacerbated, she believes, by a crisis that has pushed up the unemployment rate significantly while depriving Namibians of any certainty about the future. The crisis has also forced hundreds of private businesses to scale down operations while others closed shop.
“The alternatives depressed people make use of,  especially when they are faced with financial issues is a challenge, some prefer taking their own lives because they can’t handle being heavily indebted while others cannot fathom that the resources they invested into their businesses are gone.
But on the record, the incidents[suicides] are mostly caused by illness (Cancer and HIV), relationships breakdown, fiancé and fiancée changing their minds, work bullies, parents and children relationship and also child’s supports these came from when people come for Bio-psycho or social approach,” she explained.
The toll the crisis has taken on Namibia’s mental health tends to be overshadowed by more urgent concerns about hunger or poverty.
Nonetheless, there is increasing evidence of the psychological strain on the Namibian society – from increased diagnoses of depression to an increase in suicides – and the human wreckage it may leave behind long after the economy has been mended.
“We (the mental care unit) think that even what happened last Saturday[the case of the a man who shot himself] was prompted by the depression that ensued after his business struggled and he felt like there’s nothing left for him anymore, despite having invested so much into the business and ended up not being able to pay the bills,” she expressed, further urging business people to adjust to difficult situations.
Last month 26-year-old Steve Kandjii walked into the sea and drowned at Swakopmund after he allegedly complained over financial difficulties and indebtedness.
With an example she added that last year she opened up a business for tissues production in Khomasdal and sometimes the business could just sell about twenty toilet papers (20), such a situation results to inability to pay rent and also the employees’ salaries. In this case the business just have to close down if one is unable to cope.
She further stated that not everyone can think like her, a lot of people really take situations so negatively and that’s where depression comes in.
“Depression is a common and serious medical illness that damagingly affects how a person feels, the way they think and also how they handle the situation. Fortunately, it is also treatable and people don’t even go out there to seek emotional support from psychologists or even social workers simply because they don’t see it as disorder,” she said.
The country’s shrinking health service has struggled to accommodate a flood of patients as people who once paid for private care seek free treatment at public health facilities.
In 2010, the World Health Organisation(WHO) cautioned that economic crisis’ can produce secondary mental health effects that may increase suicide and alcohol death rates. However, the mental health effects of the economic crisis can be offset by social welfare and other policy measures.
The global health body at the time called on governments to craft debt relief programmes in order to help reduce the mental health effects of the economic crisis and ensure that there are accessible and responsive primary care services to support people at risk and prevent mental health effects.
“Governments could consider reorienting budgets to protect populations now and in the future by budgeting for measures that keep people employed, helping those who lose their jobs and their families to overcome the negative effects of unemployment and enabling unemployed people to regain work quickly,” states the report.
It further states that: “Governments could consider strengthening their alcohol policies, in particular by raising the price of alcohol or introducing a minimum price.
Such a policy would have a particular effect on reducing the harm of risky and heavy episodic patterns of drinking. Mental health service provision needs to be strengthened by continued efforts to develop universal mental health care, supported by sound financial incentives for good quality community care.”

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