Service Users' Voices - "Experiences and Support" workshop
Mental health service users from various Zimbabwe service user association groups met for an experience sharing workshop on May 29, 2019 at the University of Zimbabwe College Of Health Sciences. The workshop was hosted by the African Mental Health Research Initiative (AMARI) and it was headlined by Global Mental Health Peer Network (GMHPN) executive committee member who is also president of the Mental Health Service Users’ Association – Ethiopia, Ms Eleni Misganaw.
Also in attendance at the workshop which ran under the theme “Experiences and Support” were mental health practitioners and researchers. Topical issues to stem out of the discussions included the scarcity of psychiatric medications in public health care facilities, service users’ involvement in policy crafting and health systems planning, the need for self-advocacy, resource mobilization, service users’ involvement in research and supportive family and social structures.
According to Eleni service users are key to improving service quality. She said, “As service users our role is to provide information about our experiences of the extent and adequacy of the service provided, we should bring our unique lived experiences to focus attention to mental health care during health system planning. Improved participation would contribute to better understanding and support for service users.”
A number of barriers hinder service user involvement, unless these barriers are addressed the service users remain as silent voices. From the discussions, these barriers included limited representation at national level, lack of evidence on the best contextualized models for Africa, lack of awareness and legal frameworks, and poor empowerment of service users and low esteem.
Zimbabwe National Association for Mental Health (Zimnamh) Director Mr Ignicious Murambidzi encouraged the service users to be conscious of their exclusive advantage and to utilize it when it comes to lobbying for better reforms and treatment. “It is easier for you as service users to seek an audience with policy makers as they are readily accessible to assist you and as such you should utilize that exclusive advantage”, said Ignicious.
The workshop enabled networking and cross country knowledge sharing between Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. It was an opportunity for the AMARI fellows to learn from the users of the various psychosocial interventions that they are adapting and piloting so that they are better informed.