By Mary Hearty

Mental health still remains a huge concern in Africa as health systems have not yet adequately responded to the issue.

A study carried out by African Academy of Sciences (AAS) funded researcher, Dr Mekdes Demissie on mental disorder to help close the gap indicated that the health concern is linked to health, social, economic and functional problems.

The research which was conducted in Ethiopia and other low-and middle-income countries focused mainly on bipolar disorder.

“There is a huge treatment gap in bipolar disorder partly because of the stigmatization of mental health in Africa but also because there is limited data reflecting the burden of mental health diseases in low-and middle-income countries,” Dr Demissie notes.

According to World Health Organization, bipolar disorder affects about 45 million people globally. In Ethiopia, it is estimated that 15 percent of people are affected by major mental illness or substance abuse disorder.

Mostly, bipolar disorder consist of both manic and depressive episodes separated by periods of normal mood.

“Manic episodes involve elevated or irritable mood, over-activity, rapid speech, inflated self-esteem and a decreased need for sleep,” Dr Demissie explains in the research.

She further clarifies that people who have manic attacks but do not experience depressive episodes are also classified as having bipolar disorder.

The outcome of this study suggests that psychological interventions can be successful in low resource settings; can improve emotional control and social support, and reduce relapse rates, symptom severity and hospital admission.

Moreover, the research recommends conducting mental health education for people with bipolar disorder, caregivers and the community to mitigate stigmatization.

Through this, patients with this disorder could receive holistic treatment that include medication, social and psychological interventions.

For instance, creating awareness, problem solving and behavioral intervention, which would improve their treatment outcomes and decrease the burden among caregivers and communities.

Public and private sector actors are therefore encouraged to implement socio-culturally appropriate and achievable psychosocial interventions for people with bipolar disorder in Ethiopia and across Africa.