Mental Health In An Unequal World
The Many Challenges Facing Girls In Rural Areas
This Article was written by Precious Zamba, a volunteer at L2S Zimbabwe and social work student at Women University in Africa
This year’s theme for the 2021 World Mental Health Day, “Mental Health in an Unequal World,” highlights the world’s unequal access to mental health services due to socioeconomic inequalities. Exemplifying the inequities surrounding mental health, L2S Zimbabwe reflects on the experience of young girls in rural Zimbabwe.
In the rural areas of Zimbabwe, access to education and means for personal hygiene remains a major concern that continues to plague those with mental disorders. Many individuals who have mental disorders, for instance, are unable to access mental health services due to lack of prioritization and investment into mental health treatments in these areas. As a result, their needs remain unmet whilst their mental health, slowly yet steadily, worsens.
To make matters worse, the stigma associated with mental illnesses makes it more difficult to gain access to educational opportunities, better (or any) job prospects, and higher earning potentials. This ultimately leads to or perpetuates one’s lower socioeconomic status, which compounds the crisis even further by gradually diminishing one’s access to health care..
It is also important to mention that COVID-19 has created even more impediments for those managing mental disorders in Zimbabwe due to increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression as well as heightened financial struggles, inability to access healthcare, and aggravated educational inequalities.
Managing mental illnesses is incredibly challenging for anyone. However, young girls living in the rural areas of Zimbabwe have a set of additional challenges that they have to face as they are coping with their mental health struggles.
Compared to the girls from the city, young girls in rural areas are at a much higher risk of entering forced and/or childhood marriages, often as a result of poverty, religious beliefs, and lack of empowerment brought on by an overwhelming accessibility to greater resources. These girls may, consequently, begin to struggle with their mental health due to extreme discontentment with the imposed upon lifestyle along with inability to access care and support for their mental wellness.
Many girls may also engage in (consensual and nonconsensual) sexual behaviors that have long -lasting consequences, ones that often create and/or exacerbate mental health concerns. Some, for instance, become pregnant at a tender age. As a result, these young women may be abandoned by their families, leaving them to cope with the immense pressures of being a parent on their own. In these circumstances, thrown into motherhood, these girls are not given the chance to prioritize themselves and their mental health.
Other girls may contract sexual transmitted infections, like HIV and AIDS, due to a lack of sexual and reproductive health education as well as inability to access sanitary products.
It is inevitable that such a state of affairs will have a profound impact on the mental health of these young women, since mental and physical health are inherently interrelated..
Additionally, dropping out of school is a common issue faced by young girls in rural areas. Many people from the rural areas in Zimbabwe believe that educating girls is a waste of money, leading to many parents willfully choosing to stop paying their daughters’ school fees. Poverty is another factor that, at times, prevents girls from obtaining an education, as their families may not be able to afford the fees.
COVID-19 has worsened these young people’s ability to access education even more, despite efforts to bridge the education gap. For instance, teenage pregnancies, have risen substantially during the pandemic.
What is more, even when the girls are at school, they tend to perform worse than boys due to exhaustion.
Some girls lead child-headed families, meaning they work hard to take care of their siblings. Others work hard to pay for their school fees after their parents have decided to stop contributing. Number of girls also take up household chores, thereby leaving them with limited time to study. Compared to those from the city, rural girls do not have the same exposure and career guidance either and without the proper support, it can be understandably difficult to pursue further education.
All things considered, rural communities in Zimbabwe remain severely compromised and are facing a number of unique problems that need multi-intervention strategies both at a governmental and local level. Effective measures must be established and implemented. For this is the only way we can ameliorate the lives of thousands, if not millions, of young girls across the developing world.