Not so long ago, there was a time when most working people could afford to provide health cover for their families. I remember my sisters visiting the clinic with their medical aid card at the slightest hint of a headache; after all, we were paying for it every month. Health, being a vital aspect of people’s lives, deserves priority as a factor in general. While a lot of attention has been focused on the continuous laying off of workers as a sign of Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil, it is important to note that this will also affect people’s health as those forced to live from hand to mouth will end up compromising their health in order to focus on other ways to sustain their livelihoods.
“Allowing employers to terminate contracts of employment without paying retrenchment packages will have a catastrophic bearing on the well being of the general Zimbabwean populace”, said Itai Rusike, Director of Community Working Group on Health (CWGH).
Rusike said the workers who have recently found themselves jobless are highly likely to suffer psychological and mental depression.
Psychological and mental health
Mental health is defined as a state of well being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Issues of mental health in Zimbabwe are rather obscure, being taken by some as ‘madness’ or spiritual affliction, or by others as an illness which runs in the family. Such labelling, in turn, brings stigmatisation which encourages the disengagement of the affected person from society. As such, a person affected by losing their job might tend to experience mood swings or acute stress if help is not given to them either through family support or counselling. This might then build up to a more serious mental disorder.
Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa, is on record as having said that economic hardships, coupled with drug abuse, have contributed significantly to the increase in people suffering from mental disorders in the country with statistics estimated at 1.3 million countrywide.
Because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, most people are not aware of the different forms of mental disorders which include depression, dementia, schizophrenia, hallucinations, acute stress and mood swings, among others. While some of these disorders are short-term, some are permanent.
Rusike pointed out that while there are immediate and significant financial and emotional effects of unemployment, there are also psychological problems that can develop. Those that have lost their jobs may experience difficulty adjusting to unfamiliar patterns and redundancy. A spouse’s job loss may cause conflicts in marriages, as well as families, as the two partners may have to compromise on necessities. This may lead to domestic violence, overspending of limited resources and unplanned borrowing of funds. Therefore, unexpected layoffs are not only devastating to the individual but also to his or her dependents and greater society.
Decreased spending by families will consequently result in decreased cash flow in the economy. With the number of laid off workers now having risen to over 30 000, families are having to look for alternative means of survival.
The shrinking of formal employment sector has led to the growth of the informal sector, in turn culminating in shifting family dynamics as even children are now forced to contribute to the family’s income. Additionally, housewives who traditionally served their families by providing domestic care and support are now expected to bring monetary value to the household, especially through informal trade such as vending. However, with the recent ban on second hand imports together with the ongoing altercations between vendors and the City Council this path too does not seem to be leading to better days. Furthermore, women are usually disproportionately affected by the consequences of a mental health breakdown in the family as they are mainly responsible for taking care of the affected person, while at the same time balancing domestic chores and income-generating activities.
Men and women from different walks of life have been adversely affected by the loss of a stable income. Society needs to be more sympathetic to people around them who have been affected by job losses as their inner turmoil might be hidden from be hidden from the casual observer. As such, subtle hints and snide jokes may accelerate their emotional vulnerability, with dire consequences for their health and wellbeing.
Main image taken from www.clubofmozambique.com