The mental health unit at the Oshakati State Hospital does not have the medicines needed to treat patients. This is disgraceful. Front line medical personnel tasked with helping those in mental distress are under siege. Their patients whose medical needs cannot be addressed are a threat to themselves and their caregivers. This crisis was avoidable.

The officials responsible for the lack of medicines needed must be fired with immediate effect for incompetence. People are suffering because of this situation. Someone must be held accountable or it will keep happening.

COVID is a national medical challenge, no doubt. But, we cannot behave as if that is the only threat to the well-being of the Namibian people.

Mental health is already a budgetary, social and political throw away. Mental health wings of hospitals have always been underserved places. There has always been insufficient professional staff and ancient facilities. There are applicable medicines, therapies and modern equipment available to help manage certain psychoses. But, when patients don’t have their meds regularly, treatment is a nightmare. That is what is happening in Oshakati state mental hospital right now.

In communities and families struggling with a loved one that is suffering from mental health challenges, the burden is heavy. People are stigmatized for struggling with emotional or psychological challenges. How do you handle someone who hears voices, acts out based on hallucinations or cannot think or speak coherently?

Society tends to sweep mental illness under the table as if it is not there. But, it cannot fit under the table; it cannot drop out of sight. It is there whether we want to deal with it or not.

Mental illness, unaddressed, can affect any of us at random times. Recently, the Criminal Court ordered psychological reviews for the murderer of Global Fund executive, Sarah Lungowe Mwilima. The two professionals that examined him, determined that he was not fit to stand trial. With the substandard state of our mental health system, where does this accused killer go that he does not escape or hurt anyone else? Where will he receive treatment so that he may eventually be fit to stand trial? When our mental wellness facilities do not fit people’s needs, our system fails.

Right now, the State warehouses mental patients in basic conditions. The staffs are overworked staff and insufficient numbers of psychiatrists and psychologists, treatments and medicines. We are abusing these human beings in mental situations. They have the same constitutional rights as anyone else. It is time for the structures to recognize this.

The hospital reports that its’ only recourse without the medications needed is to ‘restrain’ patients physically. Let us dispense with euphemisms. These patients that are a threat to themselves and to others are being strapped down to their beds. Perhaps they are put in straight-jackets and locked in windowless, padded rooms. This is not the fault of the hospital officials. What choice has been left to them when the needed medications to calm patients aren’t there?

People who are mentally challenged are not necessarily physically challenged. In fact, many with mental illnesses appear to be physically stronger. Nurses are being injured seriously and report that their lives are in danger from un-sedated patients. Medicines to calm these patients so they can be evaluated, participate in therapy, be bathed, eat their meals, go to the toilet, and receive appropriate healing stimulation are not available.

We recommend that the families of those in mental institutions that have run out of medicines get a lawyer and demand answers.

The nurses must appeal to their unions. They must consider filing a lawsuit or laying charges against whoever in the Ministry failed to procure the medicines needed. Our healthcare workers cannot be expected to face physical abuse when they try to do their jobs.

Stop the discrimination against mental health patients. Their needs are equally important as managing COVID-19. The government must never put their needs aside as if providing those mental health medicines is optional. Mental health patients need their medicines just as all of us need to breathe.

Get busy at the Ministry of Health and fix this terrible problem. No excuses for inaction will be sufficient.