Zimbabwe faces a critical shortage of mental health professionals, with only 17 psychiatrists and 900 mental health nurses available to serve the whole country.
Speaking at a combined commemoration of World Mental Health Day and World Suicide Day at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare yesterday, Health minister Obadiah Moyo said accessing professional help could be challenging as there is a worldwide shortage of mental health personnel.
Moyo also took the time to open the UZ Friendship Bench, which is meant to offer counselling services to students and improve access to mental health care and to help reduce suicide cases.
The Friendship Bench is a community-based mental health programme that is helping to improve access to mental healthcare through a cost-effective intervention.
"The Friendship has trained a number of community health workers to recognise and help manage distressing mental health problems like depression and anxiety in our communities, thus helping to improve awareness and access to care," he said.
"It has now been modified for young people and today, we launch the Friendship Bench here at the University of Zimbabwe to provide a tailored mental health intervention for college and university students to help young people get that access to mental healthcare."
Moyo said it was vital to raise awareness about the issues of mental health and suicide so as to prevent unnecessary loss of life.
He encouraged people to visit health centres for assistance and make use of services such as the Friendship Bench.
Moyo urged people to watch out for one another and work together to save lives.
World Health Organisation (WHO) acting country representative Alex Gasasira said in Africa, the data on suicide was scarce and stigma was significant around suicide, though this was a serious public health problem.
"Where data is available, it has been shown that more than 20 suicides occur per 100 000 people each year and this is much higher than other parts of the world like Europe, Asia and the United State of America. Almost four out of five suicides happen in low or middle-income countries," he said.
"In the Africa region, WHO works with countries to integrate mental health services under primary care at community level. We also work with communities to address psycho-social needs."