Mental health conditions are on the rise globally and have been exacerbated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tackling mental health issues does not only help to improve the mental well-being of people but, it can also improve their physical health. Research has found that poor mental health limits a person’s ability to work successfully, reach their full potential, and contribute to their community. Therefore, tackling mental health issues can help Mauritius increase the overall health of its population and the quality of life of its people. But is Mauritius doing enough to tackle this issue? And if not, what can be done to tackle this issue?
The current situation in Mauritius
Mauritius has decentralised mental health services throughout all regional hospitals to reach a more significant number of individuals. These services are also being provided at private hospitals. Mental health services for mild-to-moderate conditions are usually in five general hospitals, that is, in Flacq, Pamplemousses, Port Louis, Rose-Belle, and Candos. For more severe conditions, the Brown Sequard Mental Health Hospital in Beau Bassin can handle up to 700 patients. In 2020, more than 93 000 individuals received mental health services in Mauritius, with over 3200 patients hospitalised at the Brown Sequard Mental Hospital.
However, according to a report from the World Health Organization in 2017, for every 100,000 individuals, there are only 2.38 psychiatrists available. Additionally, over 224 people under 18 have also been hospitalised because of mental health conditions. Also, despite significant improvements in mental health care over the past few decades, people are still reluctant to seek treatment and support from mental health professionals due to mental health being severely stigmatised in Mauritian society. Therefore, to tackle mental health issues, it is first essential to understand the stigma surrounding them.
The stigma surrounding mental health in Mauritius
There are many misconceptions in the Mauritian culture about what defines mental illness and how it looks. Many people’s views of mental health disorders are shaped by societal stereotypes or the media’s portrayal of them. There is a widespread belief in society that those suffering from mental illnesses are often aggressive and dangerous. Some examples of behaviours that the Mauritian community believes a person with mental health issues exhibits are running naked, dancing in the street, or talking to oneself. Even if these are symptoms or behaviours that someone with a mental illness could exhibit, they aren’t prevalent for many mental health issues. Therefore, many individuals in Mauritius may suffer from mental illnesses without realising or being aware of them.
Additionally, cultural beliefs in black magic or the existence of evil spirits or demons in the Mauritian culture may even make people confound mental health conditions with delusions of possession. Thus, instead of seeking treatment from a health professional and recognising the medical conditions, people often seek help from spiritual healers. Therefore, due to these stereotypes, many people prefer to hide that they have mental health disorders because of the fear of being rejected or shamed by society.
What can be done?
Therefore, the stigma around mental health is one of the main barriers to tackling mental health in Mauritius. As a result, raising public awareness of mental health illnesses and the significance of obtaining care may encourage more individuals to seek treatment. The population should also be made aware of the mental health services that are available. Campaigns to raise awareness and educate the people about this topic could be organised.
These campaigns could even be broadcast on local television and radio at prime hours to reach the largest possible audience. Also, since people often seek help from spiritual healers, religious leaders could speak out about mental illness and encourage individuals to seek appropriate care from health professionals when necessary. Furthermore, to offer higher quality care, more mental health professionals should be trained and employed. In addition, child psychologists or school counsellors should be accessible in public schools to assist children with mental health conditions or teach them about mental health issues.
Mansi Thaneswari Hursahye, YUVA Intern and Psychological Science student at Curtin University (Mauritius)