A growing number of people are seeking mental health care and experts attribute this to the current economic hardships and people losing their loved ones to COVID-19.
The increased awareness of mental health problems has also resulted in people presenting themselves at health care facilities to seek help.
Johannesburg resident Tracy Price who suffers from bipolar two disorder shares her journey.
The 46-year-old from Weltevreden Park, west of Johannesburg, was diagnosed when she was in her early 20s. She’s had six nervous breakdowns and has been hospitalised three times.
“Your moods can change within seconds. You can go from a high and you can go right down. Like on Friday morning, I woke up and I was like, I felt kind of numb, I felt quite sad. I did not feel like doing anything and yet on Thursday I was so happy, I was so excited. And you do not know when is going to happen. You can’t just snap your fingers and say maybe if I can go see this person, I will feel happier or maybe if I go myself a chocolate, I will feel happier, it does not work like that. You kind of like have to ride it out.”
In 2019, she quit her corporate job because she could not do it anymore.
She would feel so overwhelmed by the task and that made her very anxious. She also started developing withdrawal symptoms.
“You withdraw, and it is not something that you do it on purpose, is just that, you tired, and you are so scared of, a big part, a big part of what of Bipolar, a big part of what is suffer with, is fear and that is also linked to anxiety. You actually, you are scared. You get this feeling that comes over you and you do not know what to do. That is why you crawl under the covers, or you just hide away from people and do not want to socialise with anybody”
One in three South Africans experience common mental health disorders:
According to the Gauteng Health Department, at Helen Joseph hospital, as of January this year, the hospital treated 876 patients at the Emergency unit compared to 80 in January last year.
The increase in mental health patients is attributed to a number of factors, including socio-economic hardships which have been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale use and abuse of illegal substances.
Psychiatrist and head of the MBA in Healthcare Leadership at the Stellenbosch Business School, Professor Renata Schoeman says, “I might not even necessarily have a depressed mood but if I lose interest and joy in the things that I used to enjoy and loved doing and my motivation and drive is decreasing that is a red flag. Now that, in combination with changes in my sleeping patterns, changes in my appetite, changes in my thought processes, I become more negative or even start to question the value of life and consider suicide.”
Last month, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group during Teen Suicide Prevention Week revealed shocking statistics which showed that of all deaths reported by academic hospitals in the country 8% were teen suicide related, the leading cause being depression.
Schoeman says more resources should be made available and awareness campaigns intensified to deal with the scourge.
“We know that the health care system in the country is overburdened, never mind mental health services. And there is a very small portion of the health budget that allocated to mental health care services. The public sector alone cannot provide. There are not enough training positions available, there is no budget allocated to training. All of us have a responsibility.”
Gauteng Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi says they are doing everything they can to capacitate health care facilities to be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of mental health care patients.
Her spokesperson Kwara Kekana says, “The provincial government is making efforts to ensure that all health facilities are up to standard. Dr Mokgethi visited the newly opened Psychiatric ward at the Bheki Mlangeni District hospital in Soweto. The increase in the number of beds at this hospital will help to ease the pressure in the system.”
Prince says she would like to see society be more supportive and tolerant of people with mental illness.
She wants to one day become an inspirational speaker to be of hope and encouragement to those who feel alone and isolated.