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‘€˜Mental health is an overlooked priority’€™, commission told

Written by Health-e News

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has heard that mental health is an overlooked priority. This was said at the Commission’€™s recent public hearings focusing on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the realisation of economic and social rights in South Africa.

The Mental Health and Poverty Project, based at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town (UCT), conducted a five year study in four African countries, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa focusing on legislation and the seriousness of mental illnesses. The team presented its findings to the South African Human Rights Commission hearings.

‘€œMental health is an overlooked priority and it needs to be addressed, not only as a goal for development but also as a means to obtaining development. Mental health aspects of the MDGs must be addressed as an essential aspect of achieving economic and social rights’€, said Dr Crick Lund, Chief Researcher at the Mental Health and Poverty Project.

Sarah Skeen, a Research Officer at the Mental Health and Poverty Project, says there is a ‘€œreason why their submission focused on mental health and development in South Africa’€.

‘€œOne epidemiological study in South Africa shows that one in six people suffer from depression, anxiety or substance use disorders. So, mental disorders really represent an immensely psychological, social and economic burden on society that have got a significant impact on the risk for physical illnesses’€, said Skeen.

The group’€™s written and oral submissions to the Commission detailed the vicious cycle of poverty and mental illness.

‘€œPeople with mental health problems are more likely to drift into poverty, due to increased health expenditure, possible loss of employment or reduced productivity. Simultaneously, those who are living in poverty are more likely to develop mental health conditions. Firstly, social exclusion, secondly, high stresses, reduced access to social capital or safety net (and) obstetric risks which can lead to higher rates of maternal depression’€, said Skeen.

Epilepsy South Africa also made submissions. Theirs focused on the needs of children living with mental disabilities.

‘€œThe insufficient early diagnosis of disability and, specifically, neurological disability and other mental or intellectual disabilities, is a huge problem to the sector as it is to children ‘€“ as it prevents children from having the right treatment. If the condition is not treated, that, of course, brings about an increase in seizure activity and can even lead to a child’€™s death’€, said Marina Clarke, Epilepsy SA’€™s National Economic Development Manager.

The Mental Health and Poverty Project called on the SAHRC to consider setting up a commission that will primarily focus on the needs of people with mental health problems.

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