Health is more than the absence of illness or disease; it encompasses a holistic state of physical, mental, and social well-being. One must achieve complete well-being, not just a lack of sickness, to be healthy. Similarly, mental health is defined as a state of wellness in which individuals can utilise their abilities effectively, manage everyday stressors, perform well at work, contribute to society, and live fulfilling lives.

The approach to managing health has shifted from treating illnesses to promoting health and preventing diseases. Maintaining this change requires focusing on health rather than illness-related services, which has proven more challenging. Exploring the use of validated non-treatment interventions using psychological instruments and the availability of clinical guidelines and quality standards to enhance fairness and effectiveness becomes necessary as an evolving area of research. This position is relevant as optimal mental health enables people to realise their potential, cope with the everyday stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities.

Adolescents residing in sub-Saharan Africa are highly exposed to stressors through adverse childhood and family circumstances. However, regarding the prevalence of mental health disorders, the WHO (2020) reported that few individuals across the globe have access to quality mental health services. In low and middle-income countries, over 75% of individuals with mental, neurological and substance use disorders do not receive treatment for their condition. These issues are compounded by stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation, and human rights abuses. The report further highlights that nearly one billion individuals have a mental disorder, three million die yearly from harmful alcohol use, and one person commits suicide every 40 seconds.

Mental health issues can therefore be regarded as “wicked problems” that should be approached transdisciplinary. A research approach that involves breaking down traditional disciplinary boundaries and integrating diverse perspectives, knowledge, and methods to address complex problems. This approach allows researchers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the problem and its various dimensions, as well as identify potential solutions that may not have been apparent from a single disciplinary perspective while promoting the co-creation of knowledge with stakeholders, including those who are affected by the problem for effective and sustainable solutions.

Women play an essential role in ensuring mental well-being. One of these efforts is developing a computerised adaptive test for evaluating students’ mental well-being post-COVID-19. This tool will create an effective intervention to improve African individuals' and communities' mental health outcomes. Well-being research in Africa has been criticised for employing assessment tools from Western countries without considering their ecological validity. To develop African-centered positive psychology, it is crucial to address the concerns raised by scholars by ensuring that the expanded scale emphasises the African context.

Women have contributed to society as caregivers, educators, professionals, entrepreneurs, activists, and leaders. They also play critical roles in raising and nurturing children, maintaining families, and contributing to their communities.

A research approach that involves breaking down traditional disciplinary boundaries and integrating diverse perspectives, knowledge, and methods to address complex problems.

These roles properly situate women for taking leadership initiatives within their natural spheres of influence. This will include active participation in conversations that will provide health to help understand the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments for mental health disorders.

Advocacy is needed for mental health awareness. Policy development in support of research to raise awareness and the need for more research to improve the understanding and treatment of disorders. There is also a role in peer support for others experiencing mental health challenges. Women can offer support and encouragement to individuals struggling with mental health issues and help them access appropriate resources and treatment. They can also engage in mental health training and education to become professionals, researchers, and advocates.

On this remarkable International Women’s Day, the achievements of women across the globe are recognised in ensuring their health and mental well-being. By working together, women can help improve the mental health outcomes of individuals and communities in Africa and worldwide.

Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.