World Mental Health Day 10th October 2008 – South Africa’s Shocking Stats
Mental Health NGO says “More Money for Mental Health”
One in every five people will suffer from a mental illness. Every 24-hours in South Africa, 22 people commit suicide and 220 people attempt suicide. 9.5% of teen deaths are due to suicide. Yet, there are only 284 psychiatrists to care for South Africa's 46 million people and over 160 of them work in the private sector. In Limpopo, with a population of 5.6 million, there is not one government psychiatrist. Mpumalanga, with 3.5 million people, has no government psychiatrist and the North West Province has one government psychiatrist for 3.8 million people. “There are two Government psychiatric intake facilities in Johannesburg that patients who are psychotic or suicidal can be taken – yet these wards are full to capacity,” says psychiatrist Dr Sebo Seape. “Too often patients have to go to a general ward or travel hours to get help – and often that help is simply not available or adequate.”
South Africa is a crime riddled country - up to 6 million people may be suffering from PTSD. According to Dr Eugene Allers to help them effectively, it would need 36 million therapy sessions. Yet, using every psychologist in the country, South Africa only has the capacity for 1.7 million sessions.
Compared with 14 other countries (incl. Germany, France, Nigeria, and Mexico): South Africa has the second highest prevalence for substance abuse and the seventh highest for depression. Why then does South Africa spend such an abominably low percentage of its health budget on Mental Health? The Northern Cape spends only 1% of their health budget on mental health and the North West spends only 5% of their health budget on mental health.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is at the forefront of patient advocacy and education in South Africa. As one of South Africa’s largest mental health initiatives, SADAG runs the only toll-free suicide crisis line, and only toll free substance abuse lines in the country. They also do extensive work to build awareness about mental health, destigmatise mental illness and educate people across South Africa about mental wellness. “Many of our callers have no access to treatment, or psychiatric facilities in their area as many have been closed,” says SADAG’s Counselling Services Manager, Cassey Amoore. “We know how difficult it is for patients with psychiatric illnesses to get the appropriate help. We are trying to raise awareness in government that mental health should get more attention – and more money.”
With this in mind, SADAG will be heading to Parliament on the 10th of October for World Mental Health Day to lobby politicians about the seriousness of mental health issues in South Africa. “If one in five people suffers from a mental illness, we all know someone – a friend, a family member – who needs treatment and support,” explains Chief Executive of SADAG, Elizabeth Matare. “The AIDS pandemic is a huge issue in South Africa and much funding is pumped into research and prevention programmes. We forget that with a diagnosis of HIV and AIDS comes depression, anxiety and trauma. People with HIV are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. And according to Kaiser Permanente one of the worlds
largest medical schemes, if a patient’s underlying mental health problem isn’t treated, their treatment for illnesses like HIV and AIDS, Cancer, Diabetes are all far less effective.”
The message is clear and simple – we need to be paying far more attention to mental health. And mental health needs more resources and funding. Mental illnesses are real and treatable. They can happen to anyone – even you.