Almost one in five South Africans suffer mental illness

A total of 16,5% of South Africans suffer from common mental disorders like depression and anxiety, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said on Monday.

“Even more concerning perhaps is that 17% of children and adolescents suffer from mental disorders,” the organisation said in a statement.

These statistics are revealed in a review of studies completed in 2008 by the Mental Health and Poverty Project (MHaPP) at the University of Cape Town.

The review also found that in low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, maternal mental health problems were particularly high.

“One in three women in these areas suffer from postnatal depression.”

Sadag said research from rural KwaZulu-Natal showed that 41% of pregnant women were depressed.

This was three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.

Johannesburg-based psychiatrist Dr Thabo Rangaka, said diagnosis, treatment and support for people with a mental illness were already difficult to obtain in urban areas.

“In rural settings, where people don’t have the information or the funds, this can be virtually impossible.”

He said while South Africa had a “wonderful” National Mental Health Care Act, there was often a problem in how it was implemented.

MHaPP chief research officer Dr Crick Lund, said resources to deal with mental health were disproportionately distributed between urban and rural areas.

“In rural areas, there is one bed for every 342 patients needing mental health care and no child or adolescent-dedicated beds.

“In the North West, only 10% of psychiatrists work in government services.”

Lund said a number of people needed to work together to implement a constructive mental health policy.

Provincial health departments, the departments of education, housing, social development, correctional services, labour and justice, as well as the police, should all be involved in dealing with mental health issues.

Lund also said wider society needed to be better informed about mental health issues.

“We need to challenge the old stereotypes about mental health, stereotypes that say that people with psychosis are bewitched or possessed by demons; that people who are depressed are lazy,” Lund said.—Sapa

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