The Lancet has been running a series on Global Mental Health. In the opening article of the series, “No health without mental health,” Martin Prince and colleagues examine the “interconnectedness” between mental health and malaria, among other conditions. Some of the possible connections between malaria and mental health may include –
- association of P falciparum with self-limiting psychiatric disorders
- psychiatric effects of some malaria treatments
- complication or delay of malaria diagnosis in presence of psychiatric disorders
- association between parasitaemia and anxiety, depression, and total psychological symptoms
- deficits in memory, language and attention
- short term effects of malaria on cognitive function and long term effects on cognitive development
- somatization leading to incorrect self-diagnosis of malaria
The foregoing require further research. Areas that have yet to be researched include the role of mental health on malaria medication adherence and adoption of preventive practices, as well as the general possibility that mental disorders might increase the susceptibility to malaria.
Of particular interest in terms of malaria prevention and care of newborns would be research on the effects of postpartum depression (PPD) on malaria. Research by Minkovitz and colleagues in the US has shown that postpartum depression, which can last 2-4 months, has a serious effect on mothers’ parenting skills. A PPD prevalence of 18.6% of mothers at the primary care level in Nigeria was similar to the nearly 18% reported in the US study.
the Lancet makes the point that Mental Health is a neglected issue. Malaria, too, despite new funding being made available, is still neglected based on the 48 million disability adjusted life years attributed to the disease annually. The interconnectedness between malaria and mental health is another reason to stop the neglect of both.