Mental health issues in Zim working population

Memory Nguwi

A FEW years back we did a comprehensive study of prevalence of stress in the Zimbabwean working population. We used the Four-Dimensions Symptom Questionnaire (4DSQ) developed by Terluin (1996) in this study. The Questionnaire measures the following dimensions.

Distress — what people experience when they are “under stress”.

Depression — represent depressive thoughts (including suicidal ideation) and loss of pleasure (anhedonia).

Anxiety — includes symptoms such as free-floating anxiety, panic attacks, phobic anxiety, and avoidance behaviour.

Somatisation — comprises “psychosomatic symptoms that represent bodily stress reactions when they are mild and few, but psychiatric illness i.e. somatisation disorders or hypochondria) when the complaints are many and disruptive. (Clarke & Smith, 2000)
Here is a summary of the findings:

Around 72,3% of the surveyed Zimbabwean workforce is in distress (strongly elevated) and 27,7% are under the moderately elevated category. This category is characterised by; worry, difficulty in thinking clearly, feeling down and depressed, disturbed sleep, easily irritated, lack of energy, tense, easily becoming emotional, no longer have interest in people and things. Other symptoms experienced by this distressed group include feeling like they cannot do anything anymore and cannot face it anymore.

100% of the surveyed working population is experiencing a depression with all of them in the strongly elevated category. Symptoms experienced by this category include; feeling everything is meaningless, and cannot see a way of escaping from their situation, life is not worthwhile, they feel they would be better if they were dead, and cannot enjoy anything anymore, wishing they were dead.

100% of the surveyed working population experience anxiety with all of them in the strongly elevated category. Symptoms experienced by this category include; vague feelings of fear, trembling when with others, panic attacks, feeling frightened and fear of going out of the house alone.

74,3% of the surveyed working population in Zimbabwe experience somatisation (strongly elevated) and 25,7% are under the moderately elevated category. Symptoms experienced by this category include; headache, painful muscles, back pain, bloated feeling in the abdomen, neck pain, blurred vision, dizziness or feeling light-headed, nausea or an upset stomach, pressure or a tight feeling in the chest, pain in the chest, tingling in the fingers, excessive sweating, palpitations and fainting.

The prevalence of distress is highest in the law and legal services sector (89,5%), petro-chemicals (87,5%) and in the medicine and pharmaceuticals (86,4%).

The prevalence of somatisation is highest in the retail sector (87,1%) followed by media, marketing and advertising (83,3%) with agro-processing and agriculture in third position at 81,4%.

About seven in 10 working man have somatisation symptoms (strongly elevated) compared to eight in 10 for women
Distress symptoms are more prevalent in senior management with almost 8 in 10 experiencing distress symptoms.

Eight in every 10 of the junior managers experience somatisation symptoms.

Eight in 10 employees aged 32 years and below are experiencing distress symptoms compared to seven in 10 of those aged between 33-41 years.

Eight in 10 employees aged below 32 years are experiencing somatisation symptoms.

75,2% of employees above the age of 42 are experiencing somatisation symptoms.

Most of the participants (64%) are aware that they can get assistance for the problems they have. Only 36% are not aware that they can get help.

Of those 43% seeking help for their situation, 22% of them seek assistance from church, 11% look for help from doctors and less than 10% seek help from other sources.

Nguwi is an occupational psychologist, data scientist, speaker and managing consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and HR consulting firm., Phone +263 24 248 1 946-48 or +263 772 356 361 or e-mail: