The Stark Differences in Attitudes Towards Women’s Mental Health Across The World | Smart TMS

Guest Blogger: Annie Burt

“Poverty of goods is easily cured; poverty of the mind is irreparable.”  — Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher

Mental Health – A World Wide Problem

‘Poverty’ and ‘Africa’ are two words that probably bring a few images to your mind when you close your eyes. Underweight children, small mud huts, women walking miles with buckets of water.  We understand that poverty may mean a child goes hungry, or someone catches malaria, or a family goes without electricity. Do we really know the true impact of this?

Mental health problems are not exclusive. They don’t only happen to a certain type of person. They can impact anyone at any time, rich or poor, anywhere in the world. Sometimes, developing countries are portrayed as so very different to the lives we lead in the UK that it’s easy to become detached. The less we understand about how someone else lives, the less we empathise; The more helpless we feel and the less compelled we are to act.

There is, however, one thing that brings communities in every corner of the world together connecting us all- we’re all just human. And sometimes, humans go through tough times. Money worries, family breakdown, bereavement or any other type of adversity can cause an individual to feel overloaded. This may manifest itself in many ways. Depression, anxiety, PTSD are human problems, and how we respond to them is the key to helping people recover.

My Zimbabwean Discovery – The Stark Differences to the UK

In 2018, I visited Zimbabwe with a small Reading-based charity. I saw first hand the impact poverty has on mental health, and how lucky we are in the UK that we live in a society that is starting to open its eyes to it. Zimbabwe is a long way from that.

In Zimbabwe, mental health simply isn’t recognised. Everyone who lives there has faced hard times, but many people have sadly come to accept that this is just part of life. Trauma must be dealt with quickly, and life must go on. When you’ve got a family to feed and crops to tend to in order to survive, mental health is not on the agenda. This isn’t just the case of everyday people, but also of the people in power.

The impact mental health can have on an individual anywhere in the world is devastating. Seeing how badly some people in Zimbabwe need support that simply isn’t available was hard to swallow.

My Zimbabwean Discovery – The Welcome of a Lifetime

I first met a lady called Chido* among a small group of people in a rural community at a local school. We drove up the dusty dirt track, riddled with pot holes and overgrown shrubs for about 5km. We parked up next to three large, almost derelict buildings that were the classrooms of over 500 pupils.

Outside the classrooms, a gathering of people, young and old, had formed and sat under a shaded tree, awaiting our arrival. When they saw us, we were greeted by warm smiles, big hugs and lots of laughs. We talked for a while about what their lives are like and how the charity could give them the tools they need to make improvements. Through all these pleasantries, I was very aware of a woman who remained seated under a tree, watching, but not wanting to join in. I wondered why she had walked all this way in the heat for at least an hour if she had nothing she wanted to talk to us about.

As the day went on, I spoke to the children, more of whom had shown up by now, and found out how they were doing in school, how far they had to walk to get here, what their favourite sport was and what they want to do when they grow up. We discussed challenges faced by ageing grandparents who care for their orphaned grandchildren; single fathers who are doing their best despite the hardship, kind members of the community who take in orphaned children, despite having nothing of their own. All the while, Chido stayed under the tree.

My Zimbabwean Discovery – The Reality of Mental Health

At lunch, I asked our community representative about Chido and why she didn’t want to join in. Our representative simply said, “she’s crazy”. This was not meant to be cold or cruel, it was just the reality here.

When I dug a little deeper, and heard Chido’s story, I was so shocked and couldn’t comprehend how there was no specialist help out there for her. She had two children, a ten-year-old and a two-year old. Neither are at school or pre-school very often. She either forgets to send them or can’t afford the fees.

My Zimbabwean Discovery – Chido’s Story

A few years previously, Chido’s husband had borrowed money from a loan shark to buy a bike. He only did this so that he could sell crops at a local market. When he failed to pay back the loans, he became so overwhelmed from the pressure and threats he was receiving, he sadly took his own life.

At this point, Chido had just given birth to her second baby, and was suffering from what we know to be post-natal depression. After her husband’s death, her mental health deteriorated rapidly, and she became known as ‘crazy’. Friends and neighbours avoided her, for fear of ‘catching’ her illness. Others believed she had been cursed.

Everywhere she goes she is subjected to laughter, mocking, people crossing the street to avoid being near her. Not only does she need support, but she needs someone to understand. However, with only four mental health hospitals in the whole country, fees in the region of $700, and earning $2 a day at most, support is not within Chido’s reach.

Unfortunately, this story is not unique. Mental health in Zimbabwe, and many other developing countries, is misunderstood, underfunded and ignored. I think to myself what care Chido would receive if she hadn’t been born into the society she calls home. If she was born in the UK, the NHS would support her. She’d receive a diagnosis and treatment for potential PTSD, postnatal depression and any other conditions she may suffer from.  I just hope that the same will one day be on offer for people all around the world, including Chido and those like her.


*An alias has been used to protect Chido’s identity