By Masutane Modjadji
South Africa has a population of 55.7 million people, and it is at present struggling with a very high burden of mental health conditions in the country.
Approximately 30% of the South African population will experience a common mental health disorder in their lifetime. These disorders contribute significantly to disability in the country, with depressive disorders being the 5th highest contributor to disability, and anxiety disorders being the 9th highest contributor to disability.
In terms of risk factors:
- Stigma, discrimination and misinformation related to mental health conditions contribute to a substantive treatment gap, where 75% of people with mental health disorders never receive the treatment they require
- A high level of co-morbid mental health disorders exist among people living with HIV, which is particularly relevant as HIV is the leading cause of mortality and premature death in South Africa
- The co-morbidity of mental disorders and chronic health conditions like HIV and TB (both of which are highly prevalent in South Africa) affects the prognosis of these conditions negatively, impacting on interpersonal relationships, quality of life and people’s adherence to treatment
- While there are social care grants available for mental health care users, these are not sufficient for individuals to make ends meet. These grants are also subject to withdrawal of funds if individuals are seen to be recovering from a mental disorder
- This raises concerns about the apparent lack of understanding by officials officiating social welfare grants regarding the chronic nature of mental disorders and the need for more long-term and holistic support
“[The] South African government’s approach to mental health as a whole appears to be one of pure ignorance. It seems as though the government is purposefully shutting its eyes to the silent mental health crisis of the country, which has been brewing since before the country’s fairly young democracy. Not providing the necessary resources soon, could very well lead to a psychological pandemic”.
– Mental Health Care User, Cape Mental Health –