Even though many people tend to ignore their state of mental health, it is a vital component of one’s life if one is to function optimally. A society whose members suffer mentally is, actually, a sick society.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is defined as “the state of emotional and psychological wellbeing in which every individuals realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make contribution to his or her community”.
A meeting held last week in Nairobi found out that many South Sudanese who suffer from mental conditions do not know where to access mental health services in Kenya, and in other regional countries.
This revelation is crucial for a country like South Sudan, which is very militarized. Many people in the country have been involved in violence and conflict, either directly or indirectly. They have witnessed or heard of violence and atrocities committed against them or people close to them.
A report released by The Lancet in 2012 revealed that a study of South Sudanese ex-combatants found that 15% reported wishing they were dead or had thoughts of self harm, and 36% met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
This situation is grimmer because only one public hospital in the country - Juba Teaching Hospital - provides psychiatric care, with an inpatient ward capacity of 12 beds only. And the unfortunate thing is that people with serious mental health issues, who should be in hospital, are sometimes held in prisons.
In the 2015/16 budget, the health sector was allocated only 3 percent of the national budget, far short of the 15 percent target pledged by African governments under the Abuja declaration in 2001.
Available information says that currently there are only two practicing psychiatrists in the entire country of 11 million people. This should be a wake up call to policy-makers and decision-makers. They should think seriously about how to tackle this problem which has a serious impact on many in the society.
It is not just a problem for an individual, it touches all family members
With these findings, the government and other concerned parties have a responsibility to come to the rescue of those affected by psychological distress. Where and when the problem occurs, it is not a just a problem for an individual, but it is a problem that touches all family members and friends of the mentally ill person.
It has been said that many of the people suffering from depression have a tendency to want to harm themselves. Thus, society cannot ignore a problem that has such serious implications on its victims.
The irony of this problem is that it is mostly neglected, unlike physical destruction, because its psychological scars are less visible. But this does not mean that its consequences are less damaging than any other kind of violence. Experts say that depression causes nightmares, irritability and the inability to concentrate. Some of the victims also hate themselves, feel hopeless and have suicidal tendencies.
The WHO estimates that in situations of armed conflict and other emergencies, the proportion of the population suffering from mild or moderate mental disorders rises from about 10 percent to 15-20 percent.
In the case of South Sudan with an estimated population of 11 million people, this will translate to a figure of between one million and two million people suffering from depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Most of those who are suffering are probably the youthful and productive part of society, bearing in mind that the warring factions in the South Sudan conflict, the government and rebels, have been accused of using children and youth in the war. This is a demographic that cannot be ignored.
This is a huge and integral part of South Sudan’s population and if nothing is done now to salvage their situation, the lives of a whole generation will be affected for many years to come.