Depressing mental health stats

Vuyo Mkize: The Star, 17 July2013

A TOTAL of 220. That is the number of people who attempt to take their lives every day in the country. The number of people who die each day as a result of suicides is 22. One in five people in the country has mental health problems, and it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second most disabling health condition in the world. And those are just some of the hard-hitting statistics associated with mental health in the country.

Elizabeth Matare, chief executive of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), said that for people to understand the critical challenges faced in mental health, the mental health gap needed to be understood. In 2002, the Department of Health enacted the progressive Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002, which set out to provide: the care, treatment and rehabilitation of persons who are mentally ill; to set out different procedures to be followed in the admission of such persons; to establish review boards in respect of every health establishment, and to determine their powers and functions; to provide for the care and administration of the property of mentally ill persons; and, to repeal certain laws and to provide for matters connected therewith.

However, until today, there is no formal mental health policy, as the act (promulgated in 2004) was an unfunded mandate. Matare said mental health organisations, raised their concerns about the delays at last year's summit on mental health conducted by the Department of Health. At the summit, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi acknowledged that the prevalence of mental disorders in the country was high and that health services were inequitably distributed, fragmented and inadequately resourced. Motsoaledi voiced the need to boost investment in the country's community-based mental health services and called for an infrastructure master plan to be developed and costed. This month is mental health awareness month, and both Sadag and the SA Federation for Mental Health have decried the fact that mental health is not defined as a key health priority in the country, and has consequently been left at the bottom of the pile in terms of financing.

According to a research paper compiled by the federation's programme manager, Chanelle Albertyn, South African morbidity data indicated that mental disorders were the third highest contributor to the local burden of disease, after HIV and other infection disorders. It was also found that a staggering 75 percent of people who lived with mental disorders in the country did not receive the care that they needed. Albertyn said the picture of mental health in the country was "challenging at best". In terms of hospital resources for psychiatry, the country fares better than many other African countries, with 2.1 beds per 100 000 of the population. There is also a serious shortage of mental health professionals, as the total personnel working in mental health facilities stands at 11.95 per 100 000. Of these, only 0.28 are psychiatrists, mainly in urban areas. Matare stated that in order to bridge the gaps, there needed to be a provision of mental health care at primary healthcare level as well as the provision of medicines at clinics and public education in mental health.

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