Globally, over 75 per cent of people living with mental illnesses, do not receive any form of treatment from healthcare facilities.

This situation is even worse in Zambia, given that the country does not have enough mental health facilities and staff in this discipline.

Evidence suggests that factors increasing the likelihood of treatment avoidance or delay before presenting care to mental patients include: lack of knowledge to identify features of mental illness; ignorance about how to access treatment; prejudice against people who have mental illness and the usual discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.

Against this background, Psych Health Zambia, an institution that offers non-drug clinical services, capacity-building and research on mental health came into being to supplement the current health services being offered in the country.

Established in 2014 with a staff compliment of only two people at that time, Psych Health has offered various mental health services to a large section of the Zambian population and has now expanded to include 11 members of staff with expertise in psychology, medical sociology, health economics, public health, business management and law.

News Diggers! caught up with the pioneers of Psych Health Zambia, who gave more details about what services the organization offers; what inspired this group of young people to come up such an initiative and how the response has been so far.

Kayumba Chiwele Tambatamba is Psych Health’s Clinical Services Director and she explained how her organization operates and gave its difference from other mental facilities.

“As opposed to Chainama Mental Hospital, which is a mental health institution where they provide rehabilitation and medication for mental patients, we are an institution that’s offering non-drug psychotherapy services to people with mental disorders and even other situations that are on the social-end such as marriage counselling; couples counselling and stress in the work place; stress in life and learning disabilities. We also offer training to corporate companies, where we cover topics such as sexual harassment, stress in the work place and mental health in a work place…just different themes, depending on what the company specifies for their clientele. But basically, we deal with mental health as broad as you can think of it, all mental health disorders; we are able to treat, through psychotherapy,” Tambatamba explained.

Bearing in mind that there is less awareness about mental health in Zambia, Tambatamba explained that Psych Health Zambia had initiated a programme dubbed ‘Tilitonse,’ where survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), who may have been psychologically defeated, are being empowered through counselling.

“There is definitely not enough awareness in Zambia about mental illnesses, that’s why we even came up with Tilitonse (meaning we are together), which our main aim is to increase awareness throughout the country, especially in those rural areas that may not have information. Then secondly, through the Tilitonse campaign, we are trying to also reduce the stigma that’s associated with mental health because a lot people, when they hear mental health, they think it’s witchcraft or that there is Satanism involved. So, we want people to be aware and understand what causes mental illness; where it comes from; who can get a mental disorder; how it can be treated and where to get health care. Mental health is just like any illness, like when you have malaria, you go the doctor, so when you have mental illness, it’s the same way; it can be treated as well at the clinic or at the hospital. So, we are trying to make sure that these are available even in rural areas so that people should know to say ‘if my daughter is showing such symptoms or behaving in a certain way, I can take them to so and so’,” Tambatamba explained.

Under the Tillitonse, Psych Health Zambia is working with media as much as possible, conducting outreach programmes in various communities where they are educating people about what mental health is.

“We want people to understand that when they see a person picking dirt and things like that, this is one kind of disorder they may possibly have and this is what we may do to help them, just so they understand what causes mental illness. There are a lot of different types of mental illness and people don’t understand that; they simply use the word ‘mad’ but they don’t understand what types of disorders there are. So, we want to do as much as we can, through talk shows in schools and communities to help people understand what mental health is all about and how they can help people who are affected by it,” Tambatamba narrated.

Asked what motivated her team to come up this initiative, Tambatamba said the institution was not only providing health care to mental patients, but had also provided jobs for the unemployed people.

“Basically, we looked at the fact that in this whole country, we only have one mental institution, which is Chainama, and Chainama is responsible for all the 10 provinces that we have. We do have psychiatric units in some hospitals here and there, but they are small and they are not able to handle the capacity of the demand within all these provinces and towns so we decided to come up with this. But on top of that, there is also the aspect of unemployment, but by coming up with this, we are bridging the gap between youth unemployment and also the service delivery in mental institutions that is not meeting the needs of the people in our country,” explained Tambatamba.

And explaining how the journey of the provision of mental health services through Psych health has been, the institution’s Business Development Director Chewe Mulenga said the response had been overwhelming.

He also said the institution was hoping to start performing even better once the Mental health Bill is passed by Parliament, hopefully during the current sitting.

“The response has been overwhelming! We have had companies like the Copperbelt Energy; Zambia National Building Society; Lusaka Golf Club… who have approached us for training in specific sessions. So, the response has really been overwhelming. We’ve also had meetings with the Minister of Health (Dr Chitalu Chilufya) and he mentioned that he will be presenting the Mental Health Bill to Parliament this year and when that happens, it’s going to open even more doors. So, we are partnering with the Ministry of Health because even when we want to work in these communities, we want to take advantage of the community health centres since they are already established structures where we can be able to put our therapists for sustainable purposes,” explained Mulenga.

“I think people are going to be enlightened because then, they will get to know more. So, if the Bill passes, then there are obviously going to be deliberate policies of how every hospital should have a person in charge of mental health like a therapist or someone that has the technical know-how so that if someone goes to the hospital, they do not just say ‘okay this is malaria’ or ‘we do not understand what this is’. So, that presents an opportunity even for us to say ‘can we at least be helping in training people and all that’ because the idea is, apart from raising awareness on mental health, we want to get into communities and train community leaders that they should be able to be counsellors.”