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State of Mental Health in Rural Africa

Updated on June 12, 2020
Melusi Jeisal Ngwenya profile image

Melusi Jeisal Ngwenya has a Degree in Social Psychology. Currently a post graduate at Richfield College

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

Mental health does not mean the same thing as Mental illness and Mental Health does not mean the absence of Mental Illness. World Health Organization elaborates that “in the course of a lifetime, one may never experience mental illness but everyone will have some challenges with mental health at some point in life”.

The issue of Mental Health has always been considered not so important in Africa especially in the rural areas. Most Health Care systems of countries in Africa they overlook the importance of mental health. As someone who was born and raised in Africa I think the issue of neglected mental health system has a strong link to Culture, Poverty, Literacy and Human Rights.

Poverty in Africa
Poverty in Africa | Source


In rural parts of Africa people struggle to get their hands on the most basic things like Food, Clothing and Water so the issue of Mental Health will be the last on anyone’s list. With pandemics like HIV, TB and now Corona Virus the importance of Mental Wellness is further down on the hierarchy of needs. With outbreak of these diseases people go through depression and yet there are no counselling facilities. People usually get therapy or counselling from some family relative who has no skill at all in counselling.


Married Couple
Married Couple

In African culture, there are phrases like “Upenyu mutoro” which means “life is a burden”, people are brain washed to think that it is normal to be depressed and something terrible in life is always going to happen hence anxiety. Since growing up I realized that Mental disorders like Bipolar, Anxiety and Schizophrenia do not even have names in my African language which means even back in time no one put emphasis on Mental Health. Looking at some of the things that happen in African culture like child marriages where underage girls are married to older man, this has a lasting impact on the Mental Health of a child who has to go through the pressures of being a wife and a mother at a very young age.


Most African countries have a low number of clinical psychologists compared to the population. The few that are available are usually placed in urban areas totally leaving out the people in rural areas. At some point a few years back, Zimbabwe had 13 Clinical Psychologists for a population of more than 14 million people. In both Rural and Urban parts of Africa there is still need for Mental Health awareness. Most people in Africa think that it is normal to be Bipolar or to have Anxiety because they lack the knowledge about mental wellness. Most people with these mental illnesses do not even know that they could be helped and life could be easier.

Human Rights Violation

Police beating a defenceless woman in Harare, Zimbabwe
Police beating a defenceless woman in Harare, Zimbabwe | Source

In their 2014 report, WHO estimates that globally, less than 5 percent of general government health expenditures are allocated to address mental health, and this figure is significantly less in lower-income countries (WHO, 2015). Simply put, mental health does not enjoy parity with physical health in terms of budgeting and attention, and this creates an unintended hierarchy where mental health is ranked lower than physical health. The OHCHR reports that in some countries, the only care available for mentally-ill individuals is in psychiatric institutions, and many of them are associated with significant human rights violations reflected in inhumane treatment and living conditions, such as shackling or locking up in confinement for extended periods of time.


In conclusion governments should priorities dealing with mental health issues and include it in Health Care System. Many people in Africa have gone through tough time mentally including Rape, Physical abuse, Political violence and Depression. Without the mental supoort they desperately need, these people end up commiting suicide or abusing drugs like Cocaine, Codeine, Cannabis etc. Considering this lose of life and potential in African youths, African governments need to improve and dedicate more resources of they health care to mental wellness programs. People need to know that they can rely on their health system for mental wellness issues. Mental wellness campaigns from both the government and the private entities should be a more common thing in Africa. People should be aware of therapy and how it can change one's life for the better

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Melusi Jeisal Ngwenya


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