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Mental illness a silent killer

The festive season is a difficult time for some people, especially those who have a previous history of mental illness. Photo credit: World Health Organisation/File Photo.
Written by Mpho Lekgetho

Sam Segopolo needed help – that everyone knew. When he did not get treatment for what his family and community say was a mental illness – it may have killed him.


A 2014 study published in The Lancet medical journal showed that mental health patients were more than twice as likely to be murdered than the general public.

Sam was well known in his Kuruman community and when he went missing five months ago, his family alerted local media, according to his brother Kabelo. They never thought to look at the Kuruman Community Hospital.

Sam’s body was found in an open field adjacent to the hospital by security guards looking for another patient who had gone missing from the hospital that same week. Police advised Kabelo to bury his brother that same day due to the state of the body.

Security guards say the open veld is not safe for patients or employees, but it might have been even more dangerous for Sam.

In June, the international medical journal The Lancet published a study revealing that mental health patients were more than twice as likely to be murdered than the general public. A study released in the same journal weeks prior noted that rates of premature death and violent crime had increased in people living with schizophrenia, a severe brain disorder in which people experience symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking.

Police continue to investigate Sam’s death. Kabelo said he is grateful for the closure that the discovery of his brother’s body has given his family.

“We are happy we finally got our brother and that is what matters,“ he told OurHealth.

But community members say more should have been done and are organising a march to advocate for the rights of people living with mental illnesses. They also plan to address poor health service delivery in the area. Among the complaints are dirty facilities and poor administration.

According to a 2004 study, 30 percent of South Africans are likely to experience some sort of mental disorder during the course of their lifetimes, most likely related to alcohol abuse.

About the author

Mpho Lekgetho

Mpho Lekgetho is our citizen journalists based in Kuruman at the John Taolo Gaetsewe District in the Northern Cape. She has a qualification in Industrial Psychology from Unisa. Mpho is a former radio presenter at Kurara community radio station. She is currently working as a data collector for HSRC and is also a chairperson of the JTG Civil Society Forum and co-chairs District Aids Council.

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