The most recent research report on Botswana youths’ mental health makes for a very disturbing reading. The research report – Psychiatric disorders and associated risk factors in a sample of adolescents in Gaborone, Botswana: a cross-sectional study – Published 29th June 2022 almost challenges the narrative that the youth are the hope of tomorrow. The research by Anthony A. Olashore, Wendy Brooks, Hlanganiso Roy, Fatai Adewole Adebayo and Bonginkosi Chiliza concludes that with the current crop of youths, Botswana’s future is too ghastly to contemplate unless something is done.
To quote their conclusions verbatim: “Our findings revealed that adolescents in Botswana have many mental health issues which may affect their developmental phases. A multi-sectoral collaboration is needed for the timely detection of identified risk factors and initiation of the necessary prevention and treatment measures.”
Just to sketch a picture of the extent of the problem, the University of Botswana and the U.N. partnered to promote mental health in Botswana. In a 2019 forum, the university vice-chancellor reported that the most prevalent mental and neurological disorders were schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorders and depression, with the majority of patients being males. In 2010, 14,481 Batswana youth aged 15-34 had a mental disorder.
There however is a silver lining around the dark cloud. The is a growing body of professional opinion that Gen Zers – those born after 1996 are not only more likely to tackle their mental health challenges by getting treatment or therapy from a mental health professional than previous generations they are also likely to make better parents better parents than past generations.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “the generation that grew up with the internet, worsening climate change, and a pandemic, among other perspective-shaping events, has indeed grown up. In fact, they are now having children of their own and just like how they are changing the conversations around work, religion, social media, fashion, and mental health, so too are they changing the practice of parenting. Gen Z’s awareness and approach to mental health can have a positive influence on their parenting by allowing them to be emotionally healthy and drivers of open communication. It can also help shape a future generation that will understand, accept, and seek to treat their own mental health issues. There will be less wounded adults walking the earth.”
This view is shared by Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone who says, “first, we can expect this open and inclusive generation to be accepting, understanding and empathetic towards their children, as well as other children and their families. Their firsthand experience with mental health disorders and treatment will make them more likely than previous generations to talk with their children about emotions and mental health, equip them with social-emotional skills and seek mental health treatment. We expect them to be hands-on parents who value sharing experiences with their children, a reaction to their own highly scheduled childhoods with technology as their babysitter.”
The jury however is still out on whether Gen Z a bright or gloomy picture. Botswana has not been able to create knowledge about mental health issues in general, let alone specific to the youth and so far everyone is just stabbing in the dark.
A recent study “Mental health research in Botswana: a semi-systematic scoping review by Philip R. Opondo, Anthony A. Olashore, Keneilwe Molebatsi, noted that “mental and substance use disorders are a leading cause of disability worldwide. Despite this, there is a paucity of mental health research in low- and middle-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. We carried out a semi-systematic scoping review to determine the extent of mental health research in Botswana. Using a predetermined search strategy, we searched the databases Web of Science, PubMed, and EBSCOhost (Academic Search Complete, CINAHL with Full Text, MEDLINE, MEDLINE with Full Text, MLA International Bibliography, Open Dissertations) for articles written in English from inception to June 2020. We identified 58 studies for inclusion. The most researched subject was mental health aspects of HIV/AIDS, followed by research on neurotic and stress-related disorders. Most studies were cross-sectional and the earliest published study was from 1983. The majority of the studies were carried out by researchers affiliated to the University of Botswana, followed by academic institutions in the USA. There seems to be limited mental health research in Botswana, and there is a need to increase research capacity.”
A similar observation is made by Anthony A. Olashore, Wendy Brooks, Hlanganiso Roy, Fatai Adewole Adebayo and Bonginkosi Chiliza in a recent report published last month. They also noted that “Despite the high proportion of adolescents living with mental health issues in low- to middle-income countries (LMICs), especially in Botswana, there is a significant deficit of local research to guide an increase in prevention and treatment.”