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Mental Health Month

There is a growing realisation that mental disorders take an enormous toll on society, hence a slow shift towards investment in resources for the treatment of mental disorders is underway.

Developing countries are faced with unique challenges which impact negatively on mental health. These include people experiencing trauma, injury, violence as well as the burden of infectious diseases, harsh economic circumstances and poor living conditions.

Despite the above challenges, mental health care takes the backseat when it comes to the allocation of resources. This is due to the burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases which are given priority. Yet, in developing countries, mental health should be given the same priority. Neuropsychiatric disorders – which include mental health and nervous system disorders – are the third largest contributor to the burden of disease after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In South Africa, mental health care is underfunded and under-resourced.

There are not enough trained mental health professionals. In 2010, South Africa had 1.58 psychosocial providers for every 100,000 people. In the same period, Argentina had 13.19 psychosocial providers for every 100,000 people.

According to WHO, depression will be the second highest cause of morbidity in the world by 2020. At the OCSA seminar, Psychiatrist, Dr. Jan Chabalala highlighted that it is not just a convenient diagnosis; depression is one of the most debilitating medical illnesses; it is serious and presents itself in a kaleidoscope of ways. “You cannot ‘pull yourself out of it’, depression needs to be treated.” Startlingly, suicide is the third largest cause of death in young people after accidents and murder in the developed world (OCSA: 2011).

Several studies have shown that people with mental disabilities are often marginalised and discriminated against in their enjoyment of the right to health.  A number of barriers on both societal and organisational levels contribute to this, such as comorbidity, stigmatisation, lack of affordable mental health services, and a general shortage of human resources for mental health care in many countries.

Burnout, stress and low morale as a result of heavy workloads, stressful meetings/presentations and feelings of being unappreciated can cause employees to avoid going into work. Personal stress (outside of work) can lead to absenteeism. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the leading cause of absenteeism in the United States is depression. Depression can lead to substance abuse if people turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their pain or anxiety (The Causes and Costs of Absenteeism in the Workplace: 2011).

Mental illness is considered a silent epidemic throughout Africa due to substantial financial and systemic challenges. The infrastructure, psychosocial and socio-economic contributors to the global mental health disparities in Africa, which include: low priority/lack of clear mental health policy; poor health infrastructure and lack of funding; insufficient number of trained specialists; poor legal protection and lack of equity; lack of evidence-based and culturally aligned assessment and treatment; stigma, discrimination and human rights abuses; and social, environmental and economic vulnerability are all priority factors to be considered (Monteiro: 2015).

Suicidal individuals are engaged in a private struggle with thoughts of death. Talking about the possibility of suicide can alleviate the loneliness of the struggle and can be a first step in obtaining help.

(HelpGuide.org: Trusted guide to mental, emotional, and social health)