Evidence Chipadza and Antony Muzondo
GWERU: In the words of Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
When you witness how many youths succumb to drug abuse, labelling it “chi ghetto youth,” these words seem ironic; like the whole generation has ‘crack’ within them.
Zimbabwe does not have official data on drug or substance abuse, but organizations such as Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) say anecdotal evidence points to high illicit drug use in the country, especially after the outbreak of Covid-19.
Drug substances are now the order of the day among youths in Zimbabwe especially drugs such as methamphetamine, commonly known as “mutoriro”, “dombo”, “guka”, and broncleer – a popular cough syrup.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa early this year said he had set up an inter-ministerial committee to tackle the issue of drug abuse as it had become an emergency.
Police have also launched an operation to hunt for drug dealers and they regularly report on arrests and crack down on drug syndicates.
“Very few people in Zimbabwe in general and in Midlands province have not heard of crystal meth or “mutoriro” as it is popularly known. Sometimes in street lingo it is referred to as “Guka” or “dombo”. The use of these substances not only predisposes individuals to mental disorders but also may act as triggers for mental disorders in those already predisposed to mental illness”, said Midlands Provincial Medical Director, Dr Mary Muchekeza at the recently held Amani Festival.
The real scale and nature of mental health challenges faced by citizens in Zimbabwe are still unknown due to limited research and capacity on the issue.
To alleviate the impacts of mental health within the society, a Gweru-based mental health research and innovation facility, Queen of Peace hosted the Amani Festival which was aimed at alleviating the impacts of mental health, while increasing the knowledge base within the community through evidence-based culturally appropriate interventions.
The COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in lockdowns, self-isolation and quarantines, infections, fears, job losses, financial losses, stigma and discrimination exacerbated cases of mental health issues said the Board Chairperson for Queen of Peace, Senator Annah Shiri, also present at the Festival.
“Effects of Covid 19 were a massive psychological burden to every individual, the strain that resulted from the loss of loved ones, increased isolation due to lockdowns, movement restrictions, loss of income, and anxiety about the future resulted in a plethora of mental health problems including substance use disorders”, she said.
Senator Shiri also said there is a need to scale up mental health interventions across all sectors of Zimbabwe.
“We should remain focused and resolute in bringing mental health to all. This does not only entail treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by mental health problems but also means carrying out preventative measures which include raising awareness,” she said.
Dr Muchekeza further challenged the community to stop attaching derogatory terms, and stigma when referring to mentally challenged patients.
“Society must stop attaching funny names to mentally challenged people in the community but they should gather the courage to support them and walk them through the journey in order to promote good mental health,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also increased risks among children and adolescents as evidenced by reported various forms of abuse, depression, substance dependency, anxiety disorders and the high number of teenage pregnancies during the years.
Despite the efforts given by the government to curtail these issues of mental distress in the National Mental Health Strategy for Zimbabwe 2016 – 2020 government of Zimbabwe mental cases are still prevalent in Zimbabwe.
Most types of disorders include schizophrenia, substance-induced psychosis, bipolar affective disorder (mania), epilepsy or the psychiatric complications of HIV.
The Amani Festival was a hotpot of activities including counselling, mental health screen, mbira, music, poetry and stand-up comedy.