WHEN MENTAL ILLNESS WEARS A UNIFORM

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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

By KANYANTA E. KAUMA

WHAT causes an ordinary man to go on a rampage, firing lead carelessly into human flesh, robbing numerous individuals of their right to life before finally turning the gun on himself?

What pushes him to this limit? What goes through his mind in those last few moments before his hand finally pulls the trigger?

Is it rage, glee, an overwhelming sense of fear? Or perhaps a deadly mix of all these?

Whatever it is, we may never know as in the case of such victims and perpetrators of heinous crimes who may not live to tell their tale as was the case with Constable Jackson Mwanza and his unfortunate victims.

In all such cases however, one thing we can definitely  hold true is that the perpetrators’  minds were definitely in  the wrong  place; a fact that has grown increasingly  evident in the rising numbers of locals  resorting to such wanton destruction and violence each time a conflict  manifests.

Barely halfway into the year and the country has already recorded numerous cases of such incidents beginning with the ruthless murder of officer Lennox Kapila Jr by a fellow officer.

Namwala police officer

A few days later, there was another incident, in which 34-year-old Constable Elzier Lubinda, a Namwala police officer turned the gun on himself in an apparent suicide.

Though extremely unfortunate, these are neither the first nor the last of such incidents.

However, the sudden spike and degree  of recent reports  signal a reasonable cause for worry  particularly considering the fact that majority of these  acts have been committed by  men and women in uniform.

The fact that most of these heinous crimes   have been over reasonably amicable issues gives rise to the speculation of much larger underlying concerns  that can be pinpointed to issues of mental health.  Sound mental health is the basis for any functional relationship be it professional or personal.

Over the years, the face of mental illness in the country has undergone minimal change despite efforts by stakeholders to demystify the condition.

The mere thought of Chainama, the country’s most prominent mental health institution often spurns thoughts of imaginary patients, giggling as they pace back and forth in a padded cell with arms bound by a straightjacket.

In this day and age, issues of mental health are still bombarded with stigma and various misconceptions that force potential victims to shun the pursuit of professional psychological help.

Depression and anxiety

The mention of conditions such as depression and anxiety often lead to stigma and mockery, forcing victims to suffer in silence, pretending to lead normal lives while they mask the “cancer” growing within.

Like an elaborate showman, spectators watch in awe as the actor bottles up all undesirable negative thoughts and emotions, leading them on with such a ” professional” and “ethereal” grace, dragging them on cluelessly like a ticking time-bomb; culminating in one  gruesome  apocalyptic end.

Despite the current fixation on the security wings, however; it must be noted that mental illness is an issue that affects all facets of society irrespective of job, race or social standing.

According to the World Health Organisation, “one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”

This further highlights the growing problem of mental illness in modern society, with numbers only increasing with each passing day particularly among the youth with the influx of modern technology and social networking tools.  The problem is only further punctuated in the professional setting where the emphasis on “professionalism” often overlooks the underlying issues and problems individual staff maybe facing.

Stress and psychological trauma

Employers are often more reluctant to address issues of stress and psychological trauma in the workplace such that more capital is readily invested into maximising profits and efficiency whereas little to no funds remain to address mental and emotional well-being.

This holds true especially in high level combat professions such as the defence and  security wings whose  members are often  subjected to  many yesrs of intense high-level training that taxes heavily on both their minds and bodies,  leading  to a string of potentially  long-lasting side effects.

The stigma surrounding the security and defence wings further surrounds and promotes the belief that the service is composed strictly of men and women moulded with brass and steel.

Honour and dignities

Noble characters whose honour and dignities come second to the “citizen,” for whom they restlessly toil. Such flawed beliefs and misconceptions are solely evident particular by the manner in which such heinous incidents are received.

Most individuals go fairly unshaken by the crime itself but by the mere fact that the perpetrator was clad in uniform; as though the single layer of cotton fabric somewhat eliminates the potential for any wrong–doing.

The fact that so many  facets of society staunchly believe that a fancy  uniform or suit is enough to purge  ordinary men and women  of all human flaws and biases  is a major reason behind  the shunning and ridicule  of mental health issues within the country.

It blatantly ignores the fact that behind those badges and tailored gowns lies an ordinary individual with the potential to feel, laugh, to cry, to anger, to hurt and contrary to popular belief; even to kill.

To address this therefore it is imperative that the Government and stakeholders at large take a serious look at the spectrum of mental illness within the country, particulary among men and women serving in public capacities.

This includes, investing in adequate channels for the screening and assessment of mental well-being within the working environment. Efforts must also be put in place to create a judgement-free space that can accommodate the critical concerns and grievances of employees at various levels including anger management as well as alternative conflict resolution.

The distribution of fire- arms must equally be rationed among carefully screened candidates in order to prevent unnecessary accidents as well as wanton destruction.

In addition to this, the impact and reach of mental health services must be promoted through the provision of adequate funds to not only combat the stigma surrounding the condition but extend such services to members of the general public.

*The author is Journalist, Writer and student pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communication and Public Relations. For comments ,suggestions and contributions email; davidmwengwe@yahoo.com

 

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