SA one of the worst countries regarding mental health: Report

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South Africa is one of the worst countries in the world regarding mental health. That’s according to the Annual Mental State of the World Report, released last year.

The report captured 223 000 responses from 34 countries across the globe. Despite efforts by civil society to normalise mental health challenges, many are still reluctant to speak out for fear of being victimised.

Kgotso Chabangu, a 29-year-old was diagnosed with mental illness three years ago. He could not cope with stress and ended up experiencing a mental breakdown. He was treated in hospital for months and now has to take medication for life.

“The main challenges I face are individual for example; I became diagnosed in 2020 and I became diagnosed because I had a psychotic episode which you can say I was crazy. So that is when I was admitted to a mental institution and it was therefore established that I have bipolar disorder. Having to recover from that episode took me about six to eight months and it was a challenge.”

Those who rely on the public health sector for their care are faced with the additional challenge of lack of medication.

“I receive my medication through private facilities. I go to a pharmacy to collect and that is through my medical aid. So I have never had a problem with getting to collect my medication and I was told they didn’t have any. But the experience is different with my mother, who is also living with mental illness, schizophrenia, and in her case even now she went to the hospital where she fetches her medication and the case was one of particular type of medication they didn’t have on stock. Because of that she is now in dire situation, her situation has worsened, she is not herself,” Chabangu explains.

Mental State report shows SA has the largest number of people who are in distress:

Fear of stigmatisation

Those diagnosed with mental illness fear being stigmatised and being labelled weak. They become insecure.

Dr Thabo Tshabalala from the Kgatelopele Wellness Centre explains:

“Stigma is all over, social even at the workplaces or at school. Once people know that you have been admitted at the particular psychiatric facility clinic, whether it is public or private somehow people tend to look at you to discriminate you in one way or another. But now it’s our responsibility as a psychiatric facility, mental health workers; hence days were we promote mental health awareness, to educate the public as a whole about the role of mental illness. The dangers of people if they mix, if they get involved in substances and also educated the managers to support that this person who is fully functional and is compliant on his medication. And for them to support him in whatever means they can if it means changing of the section where he was working in case he was working under pressure to write recommendation.”

Cassey Chambers of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group – SADAG – says it is still difficult to get people to talk about mental health.

“Getting people to talk about mental health and educating the public in all spaces and places around mental health. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, so it affects any race, any gender, any age, any socio background. I think this is where we have to create this conversations and talk and educate the public as much as possible.”

Community members agree that more needs to be done to assist those with mental illness.

“As black communities we don’t take mental health issues serious because people suffering from mental are neglected,” says a community member.

“I think that there is little education on aspects and issues of mental health. Our communities particularly our black community there is little education towards them. So I think mental health is not been taken serious,” adds another community member.

“I don’t think mental health is taken serious in rural areas because people who suffer from it are not recognised,” says a community member.

Many South Africans rely on public health facilities for care and with a shortage of properly qualified staff and the unavailability of medication, it has become difficult for them to get the necessary treatment. Reporting by Kagiso Keipopele 

Overview of mental health in SA with SADAG’s Nkini Phasha 8 October 2022: