Many Botswana children now suffer from Depression - study

11th July 2017
Executive Director of Phronesis International College (PIC), Dr Thelma Tlhaselo-Majela Source:The Midweek Sun


By Rachel Raditsebe -

A growing number of children in Botswana are increasingly battling the dark cloud of depression amongst other mental health illnesses. Executive Director of Phronesis International College (PIC), Dr Thelma Tlhaselo-Majela says the state of mental health among our youth is worrying. WHO estimates that between 2005 and 2015, the number of people living with depression has increased by over 18percent .

Depression is also the largest cause of disability worldwide. More than 80percent of this disease burden is among people living in low and middle-income countries. It is the most commonly-diagnosed mental illness in Botswana according to WHO.Many factors may play a role in depression, including genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and life events such as trauma, and loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, an early childhood experience, or any stressful situation.

Dr Tlhaselo-Majela, a former Life Skills and Peace Building Education Specialist, UNICEF South Sudan, said; "The fact is that children today face an extraordinary range of pressures. They live in a world of enormously high expectations where new technologies present totally new challenges such as cyber-bullying. The collapse of the Setswana family unit has also played a big role in the status quo.

Children no longer fear or recognise authority,” she said.What parents should watch out for in their children and the youth is continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness; social withdrawal; increased sensitivity to rejection; changes in appetite or sleep; outbursts and crying; loss of interest in their hobbies; worthlessness or guilt and, at worst, thoughts to harm themselves, Dr Tlhaselo-Majela warns. She said that a lot of time when young people are struggling, it can be extremely difficult for them to get the support they need.

“The growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do not receive any mental health treatment for their major depressive episodes calls for renewed outreach efforts, especially in school where many of the untreated adolescents and young adults with depression may be detected and managed,” she said. It is this need that drove her to start PIC. The school offers tertiary education in counselling programmes, walk in counselling services, short courses, research and consultancy work, as well as outreach services in the community.

Currently, the school, based in Ramotswa has partnered with the Botswana Police Service to research the root causes of increased suicide cases registered in the village in recent years. "There has seldom been a time when specialist mental health care is so badly needed and yet it often appears to be the poor relation of the health service. Its importance cannot be over-emphasised,” she said. This is just one of the many inadequacies that plague mental healthcare in Botswana.

In another interview, Mental Health Coordinator in the Ministry of Health, Patrick Zibochwa said mental illness in Botswana is likely to be misdiagnosed as other ailments such as malaria, and migraine, thus delaying crucial treatment for a lot of patients with mood disorders like Bipolar. He said this is largely because most general practitioners do not lean towards psychological or psychiatric thinking, they would rarely look for the right causes. Therefore, the physical ailment would be managed but not the psychological or psychiatric needs.

This, the Ministry of Health believes, contributes to the many cases of undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses, which lead to high disease burden, disability and mortality. Further, there are few trained workers to handle these illnesses. The Mental Disorder Act, enacted in 1971 is currently being reviewed and will be replaced by Mental Health Act of Botswana. This according to Zibochwa is because, not only does the current Act fuel stigma but it also doesn’t account for medical advances, treatment and care made over the years.

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