This is my sincere belief that mental health is as vital as physical health and should be afforded the same level of priority by individuals and healthcare systems alike. Unfortunately, in a country like Malawi, several significant barriers prevent this from happening. In sharing some of them, I hope to also discuss possible solutions to those barriers and also explore their feasibility. I will share my thoughts on three main barriers to mental health in Malawi, namely mental health illiteracy, stigma, and cultural norms, and finally the lack of mental health practitioners.
Mental Health Illiteracy
I will explain mental health illiteracy with a couple of first-hand experiences that I’ve been through. While conducting research on maternal depression in the rural areas of Salima and Karonga, our starting point as a research team was to investigate whether our study participants knew what depression was. The word “depression” has no direct translation in our local languages. To give a loose translation to the word, we might have rushed in with words that meant “sadness”, “disappointment” or “heartbreak”. Instead, we decided to begin our study by asking a series of questions: