University Of Zimbabwe Psychology Graduate On Trailblazing Mental Health Advocacy Journey

WHAT merely started as a blog has since evolved into becoming one of the organisations leading in mental advocacy in Zimbabwe. Mental health comes in various forms and in Zimbabwe, some of the most common types of mental health include Psychotic disorders, Depression, Anxiety disorder, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among others.

By Michael Gwarisa

Drug use has also huge cause for mental health disorders in the country and statistics indicate an increase in the number of admissions in mental health institutions due to illicit substance use. The country’s health institutions are currently overwhelmed by drug use induced hospital admissions as 75 percent to 85 percent of bed occupancy in mental health institutions is due to substance use.

In Zimbabwe, numerous organisations have come on board to amplify the mental voice in communities and amongst these organisations is Ndinewe Foundation, a Youth Led Organisation that was founded by 23 year old Tanatswa Chikaura.  Tanatswa shared her journey with us as well as her vision to become one of the leading advocates for mental in the country.

I have been leading mental health initiatives for over three years; focusing on research of mental health issues and the resources available to improve accessibility. I am the founder and Executive Director of Ndinewe Foundation, a youth led mental health organisation,” said Tanatswa.

Speaking on how her mental health advocacy Journey started, Tanatswa said the absence of functional mental health services in tertiary institutions pushed her to venture full time into mental health advocacy.

“In 2018, I looked for mental health assistance at my university to no avail. The absence of mental health education and services prompted me to start a mental health blog; which later featured on three local radio stations. That was the birth of mental health advocacy for me. The main aim of my blog was to talk about issues such as depression and suicide which were viewed and are still viewed by some as taboo topics.

“My blog evolved to include psychological concepts and arguments. In November, 2021, i decided to start a youth led mental health organization called Ndinewe Foundation  mainly because I want to reach young people that do not like reading or have access to internet services. I want to reach people that may not understand what the blog is presenting. Furthermore, I want to engage in youth mental health research that can create tailor made mental health interventions for young people.”

Ndinewe Foundation is a youth led mental health organization that promotes good mental health and well-being among children, adolescents and youths in Zimbabwe. It was founded in November 2021 and has been vehicle for mental health awareness.

“We currently have two initiatives running: A healthy environment, a healthy mind and Mental Health Advocates Association. A healthy environment, a healthy mind is an initiative has been created to raise mental health, drugs and substance abuse awareness through engaging young people in environmentally friendly activities. Ndinewe Foundation has been using activities such as clean up campaigns, as a tool to mobilize support and inspire young people to actively participate in taking care of their environment, while receiving information about mental health, drugs and substance abuse.

“Mental Health Advocates Association is a WhatsApp platform that offers mental health 
education inclusive of mental health issues, stigma and obstacles. The platform receives 
input from registered psychologists, mental health advocates, counselors, social workers,
individuals with lived experiences and other experts in related fields. The mental health
education is delivered through five modules and after every module, members are assessed 
to track their progress.”

Ndinewe Foundation also collaborates with Young People Mental Health Trust in hosting mental wellness support groups for young people. Moreover, they use exhibition stands at festivals and high school initiatives to interact with young people and discuss issues of youth mental health. Ever since she started mental advocacy, Tanatswa says she has been witnessing growing interest in issues to do with mental health from various sectors of the community. Their target age group is five to 35 years old with their main focus being children, adolescents and youth mental health.

“Well, so far it has been a journey and a half. It is not easy. When I started mental health advocacy in 2019 no one cared to listen, the issue only became topical because of the increase in substance abuse and suicide cases since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, I have been pushing myself to remain consistent in spreading awareness. Initially when I started, some people looked down upon me because mental health advocacy is a cause that does not bring any income,but, it is my passion and I truly believe I have discovered my purpose through advocacy. For me, mental health advocacy is not simply a seasonal movement but a lifestyle,” said Tanatswa.

To date, Tanatwa has appeared on various platforms such as ZBC Radio and TV talking about mental health. They have also gone into communities to interact with young people that may not have access to my blog. Tanatswa has also Written and Launched a mental health booklet underneath Ndinewe Foundation.

On the July 9, 2022, Ndinewe Foundation launched its first ever Mental Health Booklet called ‘Understanding Mental Health’ at the Little Farm in Meyrick Park, Harare. The occasion was graced with various prominent people from the Health and Child Care field, Entrepreneurs, Legal Experts, Allied Health Practitioners Council, House of Arts Association, and other youth led organizations. Ndinewe Foundation announced its partnership with Gwevedzi, an Afro-Fusion band and will be raising mental health awareness through arts and creativity. “Understanding Mental Health” is the first edition of Ndinewe Foundation’s mental health booklets. The booklet provides mental health education: highlighting what mental health is, its risk factors, warning signs and coping mechanisms. It has been created to increase knowledge and understanding of those experiencing difficulties, removing any stigma or social misconceptions and replacing these with an atmosphere of positivity and acceptance.

Tanatswa believes society still needed education around education as there misconceptions and myths were still rampart.

“I think that we have a long way to go as far as mental health is concerned. People are not ready to talk about mental health issues because the only thing on their mind is how to make money. I don’t blame them- the economic climate itself makes it difficult to continue raising mental health awareness. There is little investment in the mental health field which reflects how our society barely values the importance of mental health. Issues such as suicide are taken lightly- people only speak when someone has lost his or her life; which should not be the case. We need to provide mental health education from primary school level- it is key.

“People still use words or phrases such as “entitled” “kuyema” “be strong” when we talk about mental health issues which only leads to an increase in mental health stigma. Our government has put in place legislation for people to access mental health care delivery such as the mental health act, mental health strategy, adopting the special initiative for mental health and even setting up an inter-ministerial committee for drugs and substance abuse, which is great, however most of the young people in Zimbabwe do not even know that such things exist. Mental health itself is a complex concept and the fact that we do not have culture specific concepts and terminology to explain mental health issues makes it more difficult for people in our communities to understand. We all have a role to play in the mental health field so I hope we do not tire because there is huge mountain waiting for us to climb as a nation.”

She added that some of the issues that have been recurring in community engagements include drugs and substance abuse issues, which have become a menace in Zimbabwe. Additionally, the common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are also issues of concern. There have been a lot of suicide cases among young males with relationships being a major mental health risk factor.

Tanatswa did her primary school at Lewisam, before proceeding to Chisipite Senior School for her secondary education. She completed her BSc Honours Degree in Psychology at the University of Zimbabwe where she graduated with a first class and book prize. She has also have been awarded the Beit Trust-Cambridge University Postgraduate Scholarship and will commence her MPhil in Basic and Translational Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge in October 2022.

“Five years from now- well, I will definitely have my MPhil in Basic and Translational Neuroscience. I plan to contribute to Zimbabwe’s Mental Health information systems and research and work towards population wide mental health awareness programs and treatment for anxiety, depression and substance abuse. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing the rate of substance abuse in Zimbabwe, studying the interplay between biology and social context in adolescent development is critical.

“The results of the study will help me inform the creation of substance abuse treatment plans for the youths, which will focus on how young people’s brains can be rewired to adapt new skills that can manage the substance abuse risk factors. I also want to embark on research that focuses on the relationship between climate change and neurological disorders among Zimbabweans. Research highlights that global warming worsens the symptoms for Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps my PhD will be linked to this, who knows.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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