The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) has raised concerns over a rise in the number of people experiencing anxiety disorders due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

This as the world marks a day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) calls to its call centres have doubled since the coronavirus outbreak. SADAG says counsellors fielding an average of 1 400 calls per day.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for an increase in investment to improve access to mental health as one of the most neglected areas of public health worldwide.

“With or without the COVID, globally, you have about 450 million people in the world who are affected by mental health conditions and the COVID pandemic has increased these numbers. Most people, and not those who ever had mental health issues, now have an inkling of a mental health condition – especially anxiety disorders have increased. The measures to try and hold down the numbers, which included isolation and restriction, as well not knowing enough about COVID – people are living in constant fear of death and infection,” says SASOP’s President-Elect, Dr Sebolelo Seape.

The organisation is calling on government to increase the number of people training as healthcare practitioners to assist those struggling with mental health issues.

“The number of healthcare practitioners is a very small number. In terms of training, it would be wonderful if government would increase the number of departmental health workers that they are churning out in terms of the right subsidies and specialists like psychiatrists, the universities would also be responsible to churn out a bit more,” says Seape.

She has also highlighted the need for mental health education.

“There is never enough education. The stigma is so well and alive and that means that people are not really understand what mental health is. What should be happening is mental health should become a normal every day topic and discussed so that people get to learn. There should be a concerted effort that teaches people about mental health, whether it is for the clinics or hospitals or schools, so that people are more aware.”

Mental illness and access to mental health facilities: