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South Africa is so overburdened by physical illnesses that mental health continues to take a backseat

Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

The South African Federation of Mental Health has called on the government to urgently act to ensure accessing mental becomes easier for South Africans.

Speaking during the national dialogue on mental health on Monday, Bharti Patel of the South African Federation of Mental Health, said that studies show that less than 1 in ten South Africans living with mental health conditions receive the care they need

Urgent need to review policy 

“There are also various disparities in the allocation of resources, exposing poor planning and implementation of policies and legislation in South Africa,” Patel said.According to her, there is an urgent need to review the mental health policy framework. There also needs to be a dedicated budget for community-based mental health care.

“In terms of the solution, we need to start looking at policies, we need to uphold human rights and look at financial resource allocation, as well as human resource allocation. We need an urgent review of the Mental Health Care Act,” said Patel.

She added that the Department of Social Development must also incorporate mental health in all poverty alleviation programmes and in gender-based violence programmes. 

Attitude creates a barrier

Patel pointed out that the negative attitude often directed toward mental health care users by healthcare providers remains one of the barriers in terms of accessing mental health care in South Africa.

“When it comes to human rights too often, we hear stories of mental health care users and their caregivers about how the attitude of duty bearers and healthcare providers prove to be a great barrier in accessing mental health care. We need clear systems of communication and accountability to address the disconnect between the national and provincial departments. And keeping silent and adding to the delays in intervention when mismanagement and corruption are reported. It is a violation of the human rights of mental health care users, “she said.

Overburdened public health system

Health Minister, Dr. Joe Phaahla, said the burden placed on the healthcare system by physical illnesses like HIV, TB as well infectious diseases related to the county’s challenges pf poor housing and scarcity of clean water makes it difficult to give mental health services more focus

“ Our health system is continuously overburdened with these physical illnesses, and we hardly can focus on something which is a little bit more settled and more hidden such as mental health, so as a result of this we have got a huge gap to cover in terms of making proper provision for mental health in our country,” said Phaahla.

He further said; “So one will say, that even before the covid-19 pandemic, our deficiencies in terms of provision of proper mental health services were well established, we do not need to be reminded of the tragedy of life Esidimeni, which is indeed one most of the culpable exposure of the shortcomings of our mental health services,”.

The Life Esidimeni tragedy saw 144 mental health care users die in the care of the public health system in Gauteng.

According to Dr. Owen Kaluwa, World Health Organization, country representative in South Africa, stigma and discrimination against people who are living with mental illness, affects various aspects of their lives, from their education to their livelihoods.

“Stigma and discrimination experienced by people who are living with mental health conditions, not only affects these individuals physical or mental health, but also affects their education, current and future earnings, and employment prospects, and affect their families and loved ones. The current Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fact fragile nature of the mental health services in our country and in the African region. Covid-19 patients,” said Kaluwa.

He further said; “Despite the nature and magnitude of mental ill-health, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply of mental health and psycho-social support services, remains substantial and this has been occasioned by poor investments in mental health and non-communicable diseases in general,” said Kaluwa. -Health-e News.

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.