The 10th of October marked World Mental Health Day. The annual observance of Mental Health day gives us the opportunity to reflect upon mental illnesses, mental health as well as to break down the barriers associated with having a mental health condition, not only on the mentioned day but also during the remainder of the month.
Mental health has come into focus during the pandemic like never before, as people of all age groups and occupations bear the brunt of the ‘new normal’. Health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone and those with pre-existing mental health conditions have been particularly affected.
The effects of the pandemic aside, research indicates that one in six South Africans suffer from a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depressive or anxiety disorders or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Despite increased acknowledgment of the important role of mental health overall, health as well an increased awareness about various mental health conditions, it is discouraging that only 25% of those affected by mental illnesses or conditions, access treatment and care despite their availability. To add to this, sadly, there still exists stigma associated with psychiatric illnesses that does not exist with physical illnesses.
Without a doubt, there is no health without mental-, physical- and social health, all essential parts of life, which are closely interdependent, with mental health being crucial to the overall well-being of individuals and society. However, it seems that South Africa, like many other countries across the globe, has great room for improvement in regard to prioritising mental health.
Between 75% and 95% of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries, like South Africa, are unable to access mental health services. And those that do have access are not necessarily receiving sufficient or appropriate care.
The above are some of the statistics that highlight the importance and relevance of the 2021 theme for the observance of mental health day, which is “Mental Health in an Unequal World”.
In many countries, South Africa included, fewer than 1 out of 10 individuals with a mental illness will receive the care that they need, despite the fact that many mental health problems can be treated at clinics and hospitals.
The mental health treatment gap is further widened by the disproportionate investment in mental health, especially in comparison with overall health budgets.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit an already unequal world, impacting us all, but perhaps more so the world’s most vulnerable through loss of life, health, jobs, income and education. With this, mental health was unavoidably affected, with many people facing increased levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia along with alcohol and substance use, thus, increasing the demand for the already limited mental health services and support. Many organisations operating in the mental health sphere reported a spike in new reported cases of mental health illness and substance abuse during the pandemic.
Added to these grim stats is the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic also interrupted access to essential mental health services, thus widening the treatment gap and increasing the need for support.
These events have highlighted, more than ever, the huge scope for improvement of various government and health authorities in improving and prioritising mental health care; the need to take a stand against stigma and discrimination in order to ultimately address the inequalities that hold back people with mental illness, and their families, to provide equal access to treatment and care for all.
Although immediate medical attention is required for all serious mental health disorders such as psychosis disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, etc.; there are effective and, at times, simple coping mechanisms that each of us can implement in order to improve our overall mental health. These include:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. For more details one should approach mental health professionals and organizations such as those listed below.
May we all take time during this month and coming months, as we move to the end of the year, to reflect on the importance of mental health and proactively implement changes for the overall improvement of our health, as well as those around us. We can also take this time to raise awareness of the importance of accessible, appropriate and sufficient care for all.
For assistance you may contact:
Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline
0800 12 13 14
Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837
Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline
0800 70 80 90
Cipla 24hr Mental Health Helpline
0800 456 789
Pharmadynamics Police &Trauma Line
0800 20 50 26