By Grant Moyo
The African institute for ending depression, bullying and suicide (AFRIBS) is raising awareness on mental health issues particularly depression, anxiety, stress and suicide prevention among youths in tertiary institutions, working adults, and children.
The Bulawayo-based organisation, founded by Zenani Masuku, a mental health advocate and development practitioner, works to inspire social responsibility and awareness through the provision of relevant education, affordable access to information, counselling and mental health recovery tools.
Founded in 2016, AFRIBS works to produce and share resources for rehabilitation while spreading mental health awareness in communities. It works to promote as well as assist in policy change and practices in as far as mental health, bullying and suicide are concerned. The organisation supports coping skills, peer-to-peer support systems, ‘buddie’ system, mental health literacy distribution as well as suicide prevention awareness through social media, local radios, learning institutions, churches and community gatherings.
“My work was inspired by a life experience that I went through during high school,” said Masuku.
“Due to severe bullying, I plunged into intense depression that later led to suicidal thoughts.
“After realising the mental health care gap and the poor interventions for school bullying incidences, I decided to make it my life mission to change that.
“AFRIBS empowers, rehabilitates and advocates for the rights of children, youths and adults to access improved mental health services.”
She said while the organisation was based in Zimbabwe, their aim was to actively grow and connect with communities across the continent through a programme called Communicate, Assist, Rehabilitate, Educate and Peer Support.
“Through the provision of resources, infrastructure, education and working space, the organisation will create employment, foster collaboration through peer-driven learning and contribute to the development of mental health services provision in Africa,” she said.
AFRIBS is working with communities on spreading mental health literacy using the “identify, assist and refer approach”.
Masuku believes that as an organisation, they are a valuable resource for information that responds to the needs of the affected.
Over the 2020-2023 period, the organisation seeks to grow virtual peer support group centres covering mental health patients, caregivers, and victims of various kinds of bullying in learning institutions and in the workplace.
“Our goal is for all major and small cities to have developed centres through collaboration with civic society and community-based organisations by the end of 2021,” she said.
“These centres are to become the base for peer-to-peer support groups, mental health first aid training, resource sharing and community mission to cities and rural area active awareness teams.
“We have already begun this big work and currently we have an application that we are set to launch in the coming weeks that will enable people everywhere and anywhere to access professional counselling support through our 2 Care peer support application.”
Masuku said the government through the Health and Child Care ministry is doing a lot in raising awareness on mental health in established institutions such as Ingutsheni Hospital in Bulawayo, Harare Annex, Parirenyatwa Hospital and various other provincial hospitals, but she firmly believes that more still has to be done to protect the vulnerable.
“There is a gap in Zimbabwe’s health care services due to very few resources that help assist people with mental health disorders, there is a limited number of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists serving a population of 15 million,” she said.
“Our goal is to encourage the ministry of Education to adopt and effect an
anti-bullying policy in all our primary and secondary schools, champion the creation of more effective policies in Zimbabwe that address marginalised issues such as mental health, raise awareness on bullying and mental health as well as establish rehabilitation centres for the affected.”
The creation of peer-to-peer support groups within communities in Bulawayo and Harare is an innovation that AFRIBS started. Its role is to assist caregivers and individuals with mental health challenges to have an external support system without judgement. The organisation has also collaborated and done open talks with institutions such as the National University of Science and Technology and youth-led organisations in Bulawayo.
“Starting dialogues on mental health in communities that fear being associated with the topic and organising safe spaces for people to gather and talk about mental health has been one of our greatest achievements,” Masuku said.
“Mental illness is highly stigmatised and there is general ignorance about the extent of mental health problems. One of the many obstacles we have in our communities is illiteracy on the subject.
“It is not a hidden fact that mental health in Africa is not well financed, so with that we aim to come up and initiate programmes that everyone can access at a very low cost.
“We have an enthusiastic team that helps with mobilisation of resources needed to run our programmes because we are highly motivated at seeing individuals getting better.”
The 24-year-old mental health advocate urged the public to reach out to institutions that provide professional help when they feel that they are not themselves mentally healthy or are failing to handle their daily stresses. She stated that society cannot separate physical health from mental health because mental health is the healthy state of the human brain which controls emotions, feelings and behaviour.
On how the organisation is operating during the lockdown, Masuku noted that the current crisis has albeit had a positive effect on AFRIBS operations. The organisation has been able to come up with a number of online conferences on WhatsApp where various professionals have helped participants understand the pandemic’s impact on people’s mental health.
The organisation has already put in place an anti-bullying policy framework that will be used for training primary and secondary school teachers on how to handle bullying challenges in their various schools.
The espousal of an anti-bullying policy will reduce the risk of suicide among children and youths. The organisation also believes in rehabilitating children traumatised by bullying through self-care programmes to be introduced in schools.
While the work that AFRIBS is doing in promoting mental health is very much needed, more has to be done in order to sensitise communities and rehabilitate the affected in economically-disadvantaged communities. As a nation, we still have to come up with various policies to protect vulnerable members of our society especially children from all forms of bullying.
l Grant Moyo is a prolific writer, innovative media personality, entrepreneur and creative artist who is passionate about using his creative mind for the betterment of society. Follow him on Twitter: @TotemGrant