Studies identify mental illnesses as second leading cause of disability and premature mortality

* Suicide cases in Malawi increased by 57% in 2020 resulting from extreme cases of mental health

* Out of these figures a lot of men are killing themselves more than women

* They are as a result of loss of hope in dealing with problems resulting from CoVID-19

* Looking at the trajectory there, figures are likely to go higher in 2021 – this is a concern to all of us

By Duncan Mlanjira

Mental health is one of the most pressing concerns for public healthcare systems worldwide, says Caring Hands Center Limited, Malawi’s non-profit organization that promotes mental health awareness and the importance of a healthy mental wellbeing.


Caring Hands says studies have identified mental illnesses as the second leading cause of disability and premature mortality (measure of unfulfilled life expectancy) across the world as quoted in research by Murray & Lopez in 1996.

“CoVID-19 has also exacerbated cases of mental health,” says Caring Hands’ founder and managing director, Christine Mhone. “For example, in Malawi what we would call extreme cases of mental health like suicide cases increased by 57% in 2020 as a result of loss of hope in dealing with problems resulting from CoVID-19.

Caring Hands’ founder and managing director, Christine Mhone

“The police recorded that in 2020 records from various police stations show that in 2019 during this period, 116 people killed themselves while in year, 2020, a total of 182 have committed suicide — representing a 57% increase.

“Looking at the trajectory there, figures are likely to go higher in 2021. Out of these figures a lot of men are killing themselves more than women, because out of these figures mentioned, it shows that 92% of people who are committing suicide are men while the remaining 8% are women.

“This is a concern to all of us,” Mhone said and this concern is also shared by Voice of America (VOA) in October, 2020, saying psychologists blame loss of hope in dealing with social distancing and economic problems from CoVID-19.

VOA quotes Emily Luangwa as saying her brother was under pressure to repay a loan from his creditors and decided to take his own life in August last year because his business was not running normally due to travel restrictions.

VOA also quotes Betchani Tchereni, a lecturer in economics at the University of Malawi, as saying unemployment is also a contributing factor while Dr. Moses Muotcha, a clinical psychologist at the Kamuzu College of Nursing, told VOA that why men, who are largely breadwinners in many families, are topping the list of suicides, women are able to talk it out when they are faced with problems.

“You know, most of the time, women reach out to their friends. Whereas men — with our culture that men don’t cry — don’t reach out for help. So, if they have no means of getting food or bread to the family, they think that the best is to just commit suicide,” he is quoted as saying.

The only public mental health facility in the country

Muotcha also said Malawi’s shortage of mental health experts and institutions is a challenge for the country, which has only one public mental hospital, and the few mental health experts in other hospitals are overburdened.

Meanwhile, Caring Hands’ Mhone said in an interview that mental health includes people’s emotional,

Deal done between SPARC and Caring Hands

psychological, and social wellbeing as it affects how they think, feel, and act.

“It also determines how we handle stress, related to others, and how we make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood, adolescence through adulthood.

“Mental health is an issue that a majority of people will come into contact with at some stage in their life, whether it be directly or through a friend or family member struggling with an issue.

“According to research, one in four people in Malawi will experience a mental health problem every year. This can range from depression, addiction disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

“Another research says over 50% of all mental health issues in Malawi start before the age of 18.  However, children are less likely to suffer from serious issues if they receive support at an early age.”

Taking cognizance of these trends, Caring Hands Center Limited has partnered with one of Malawi’s top ICT companies, SPARC Systems Limited to develop a mental health awareness App.

Mhone said through the Mental Lab App, they will be “encouraging openness around mental health issues ranging from depression, addiction disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse”.

“We will also reduce stigma around mental health. The App will not discriminate against race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, etc.

“We will put special emphasis in encouraging the vulnerable and marginalized groups to use the application. These groups include; people with albinism, people with disabilities, migrants, ex-prisoners, drug addicts, people with alcohol problems etc.

“We want to achieve a healthy mental wellbeing for all and help in advancing SDG #3 (health goal) ‘reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being’.”

In its focus on mental health awareness and facilitating mental health service provision through its partners, Caring Hands achieve these through some projects such as:

* Restoring Lives Project; which is in partnership with Rainbow Television with the aim of creating awareness campaign for the people of Malawi, on how to deal with mental health issues.

* Free the Butterfly Program; in partnership with Mzuzu Entrepreneurship Hub, which is providing mental health education through counselling, group sessions, motivational talks and psychosocial support to participants of their existing programs and communities within the northern region of Malawi.

* Umunthu Program; in partnership with Trust Psychosocial offers and delivers psychosocial program to orphaned and vulnerable children to ensure that they become active survivors rather than passive victims.

CoVID-19 vaccine alert

“Mhone says these programs usually take around one year to deliver and once fully completed we offer the children certificates at a graduation ceremony organized by us.

“The program also has a provision for caregivers at the concerned orphanages, orphan homes and community centers. Tilinanu Orphanage — located in area 49 in Lilongwe — and two other orphan homes are some of the beneficiaries that have fully benefitted from the UMUNTHU program.

Caring Hands also has Mental Health Campaign Survey aimed at educating the masses about the basic terms around mental health whilst finding out how different communities understand mental health in Malawi.

The NGO also creating a new and unique Chichewa name for mental health, whose survey is being conducted in Lilongwe as a pilot phase.

“We would like to partner with more like minded institutions and experts to further mental health service provision,” Mhone said.