WHEN his parents divorced in 2016, Panashe Dzvivu (19) from Chipinge urban, was doing form three and preparing to write his Ordinary level (O level) examinations the following year. Following the divorce, his father went into neighbouring South Africa and never looked back, leaving him under the custody of his unemployed mother. After some time, he was forced to drop out of school due to non-payment of school fees.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Chipinge
Panashe was forced to juggle between school and a part welding job to pay for his school fees. However, he couldn’t keep up with the pressure and was left with no option but to drop out of school. Faced with a bleak future and dwindling unemployment opportunities for someone in his situation, Panashe resorted to drug and substance abuse. He also became violent and clashed with the law countless times.
My parents’ divorce affected my mental health in very bad way. I had no one to share my struggles with. This put a lot of pressure on me. I started drinking excessively. I also started taking drugs (Mbanje) just to forget my troubles,” said Panashe.
He said the decision to take drugs and alcohol was not in his plans but his situation opened a window for bad friends to influence him into taking and substance use.
“At first, I would enjoy the numbness and ecstasy that came with drug and alcohol use. But as time went on, it started affecting my health. At times, I would sleep in strangers’ homes after getting drunk and at times I would start fights unnecessarily after getting high. This drove some of my school friends away and I was ostracised. Nobody liked me. Health wise, I also deteriorated.”
Broken homes have been linked to a growing burden in mental health in children and adolescents the world over. Research has documented that parental divorce/separation is associated with an increased risk for child and adolescent adjustment problems, including academic difficulties (e.g., lower grades and school dropout), disruptive behaviors (e.g., conduct and substance use problems), and depressed moods. In Chipinge, increased mental health related issues have been recorded in children from broken homes and those from blended families.
Mrs Tsitsi Sithole, a Child Care Worker (CCW) working under a mental health program being implemented by UNICEF, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Farm Orphans Support Trust (FOST) said abuse of children in broken homes and blended families was forcing them to adapt negative coping strategies.
“We are dealing with a number of different cases here in Chipinge. During the COVID-19, we witnessed an increase in teen pregnancies and we also recorded a surge in child labour cases. A lot of families broke down during the pandemic. However, in some instances for example, the mother would proceed to marry another man. After some time, the man would start ill-treating her children.
“We have dealt with cases whereby the mother ends up abandoning her own children just to preserve her new marriage. Children from blended families are at a disadvantage. You find that children from blended families and those who are being abandoned in the process resorting to drugs and substance abuse,” said Mrs Sithole.
She applauded the programs being in implemented by UNICEF, Government and FOST in trying to find a lasting solution to the growing burden of mental health in children and adolescents in the community.
“What we do after encountering such cases where we see that the child could be having mental health related challenges, we refer the children to a social worker. The Social worker then takes the issues to the department of social welfare who later refers the children for further assistance.”
FOST provides Social-Workers who conduct home visits, provide counseling and Psycho-social Support (PSS) and enrolls at risk children and adolescents into their circles of support groups and refer them to relevant stakeholders such as DSD for further support and assessments.
Rejoice Gwaendepi, a Social Worker with FOST said blended families were quite prevalent in the area and evidence shows that majority of mental health related challenges were emanating from these family setups.
“At least three out of five cases that we receive on physical and emotional abuse cases are from blended families. The step children are the ones who get affected the most. Recently I had a case where the husband would beat up his step children on daily bases and when we intervened, the mother said it really pains her seeing her children being beaten but she has nowhere to go since she has not capacity to take care of the children on her own. Thus, she watches helplessly as her husband beats up her children,” said Rejoice
She added that incidences of men abandoning their families are on the rise in Chipinge and due to unemployment and economic hardships, the women remarry just to escape the poverty and economic challenges.
Meanwhile, UNICEF, the DSD and FOST are piloting a project where they are equipping community leaders and community led structures such the CCWs to be able to identify mental health related cases in children and adolescents and refer them for assistance with relevant authorities. UNICEF has since recognized the effects of mental health on children and adolescents and is developing a new module on mental health in children and adolescents which was pilot tested in Mutare Zimbabwe in July 2022.
UNICEF Zimbabwe Child Protection Officer, Lloyd Muchemwa said, “… it is part of community’s responsibility to promote mental wellbeing as well as response and support to Mental Health challenges. Building the capacity of communities will enable resolution of low level cases at community level and identification and referral of cases requiring specialist support.”
The module on mental health in children and adolescents will for the first time be part of the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey which is scheduled for 2024. This survey generates data on key indicators on the well-being of children, adolescents and women and helping shape policies for the improvement of their lives.