“A thorn to mental health” in the city of kings: youth exposure to drugs and alcohol in Bulawayo.
Alcohol, drug and substance abuse is a persistent public health problem globally and someone would really feel that Bulawayo, the City of Kings, is on the safer side of things. Yet the reality will awaken you to the escalating numbers of youth and adolescents who are watching their dreams and future going down the drain. The linkages of youth and adolescent drug and substance abuse and mental challenges faced by many go hand in glove with a lot of the challenges that they face, often without even realizing that the abuse of drugs and alcohol affects the society and the nation at large.
Growing up in the high-density suburbs of Bulawayo, I and many others have seen how young people from the ages of 10 to 25 have become victims of alcohol and substance abuse which was either a result of mental illness, or has led to it. For the sake of "experiencing life", children and adolescents often end up taking drugs or other harmful substances due to peer pressure or feeling a need to belong, then become addicted and before they know it their mental health is impacted.
After living in the suburbs for a long time, I have seen a lot of late primary and secondary school aged youth affected by mental health challenges, and later conditions like schizophrenia. Many young people who abuse drugs and substances experience hallucinations, imagining things that are not there. You can only imagine how painful that is for those experiencing these experiences, as well as those close to them.
Some argue that because many young people in Bulawayo are poverty stricken, that they lack role models to look up to. However, growing up under the hand of injustices and abuse, many use drugs and alcohol at a tender age as a way of “finding comfort” as they would put it. This may be also true, not abandoning the fact that there may also be a lack of shoulders to lean on. Nevertheless, little consideration is given to the dangers related to drug use on their mental health.
A question that is on many a mind is: What kind of tomorrow do we have? I believe there is still a chance for our children and youth. No parent or relative would be happy upon seeing their children go through these tremendous experiences. Together we can intervene, together we can mentor, together we can offer a hand, offer a shoulder and moreover an ear. There is still a chance to change the mental wellbeing of our kids and youth; a chance to build a better Zimbabwe and a better Africa.
Let us revive the mental health of our nation, help someone realize that they are special and unique just the way they are and there is no need to be like the next person. Let us assist in helping someone realize their full potential and together let’s stand for that “chance”. Remember: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
By Ndabezinhle Goodnews Gumbo
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Ndabezinhle lives in Bulawayo and is a 25 year old Development Studies student at Lupane State University. "Ndaba" offered to write this piece for The Brave Foundation based on his observations from his home city.