Am I Mad? State of Mental Health in South Africa.

Studies reveal shocking results of the poor state of mental health in South Africa. A fifth of the population suffers from mental illness such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, among others. These disorders do not include severe conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and more.

“If crime and motor vehicle accidents are taken into consideration, about 6 million residents could have post-traumatic stress disorder.” Says Dr. Eugene Allers.

People are either too scared to seek help or don’t know where to seek medical assistance. These may be the reasons that lead to such a mental crisis, yet that may not be a true reflection of what is happening on the ground. However, even with the limitations in this research, it is apparent that the mental health in South Africa is in crisis.

Monsters in my head.

Lethabo, a 25-year-old youth who now suffers from a mental disorder, narrates of his ordeal. Just like any other, Lethabo runs his daily errands when a gut feeling nudges him to see a doctor who could prescribe him sleeping pills. Within him, he battles with the fear of how his family would react if diagnosed with a mental disorder. However, he takes courage and pushes those crazy thoughts away and heads to a psychiatrist. Getting there, he removes his insurance card to pay for the medical cost he would incur. The receptionist, however, turns him down, saying the insurance does not cover mental diseases; therefore, he has to pay cash. Out of despair, he decides to call his insurance company, but finally, he resolves to pay.

He records thinking he would take a maximum of around 10 minutes and leave satisfied, but before he realized it, things were taking a new direction. Lethabo explains to the doctor how his sleep patterns had steadily deteriorated and have been having weeks of violent nightmares. He dreams of people chasing him with weapons wanting to kill him. Dreams of animals chasing him in wild places that he does not recognize. He then wakes up in a panic, breathless and sweaty. But all he needed today was sleeping pills and get out of this place.

The doctor, however, runs a bunch of tests on him, asking him questions about his background and history. He gives him a paper with questions to fill in. He does that hurriedly only to realize he was ticking yes to most issues. Later on, the doctor diagnoses him with mild schizophrenia. The doctor recommends admission to a hospital and receives treatment. He remembers crying so bitterly for almost three hours until he felt fragile.

The Root of Mental disorder.

Most people suffering from mental disorders in South Africa live with HIV. While others are individuals with low income and reside in informal settlements within Cape Town. The number of women suffering from post-natal depression is also high. Research also shows that 41% of expectant women are depressed three times higher than those in developed countries.

The stigma revolving around mental disorders poses a significant problem when dealing with these cases. In Zulu, for instance, they do not recognize mental disorders and have to name for it. Furthermore, previously in most African countries, psychological disorders were associated with witchcraft, therefore, patients were discriminated against and others were disowned by family. Some of the patients resolve witchdoctors and traditional healers for help. However, in modern times residents consider it a western thing and associate it with weakness. Men, therefore, protect their masculinity hood and would not admit to having mental disorders unless it is dire. Even in modern times, some who suffer from mental disorders lose their job. Some employers associate it with danger, craziness, and incompetence.

Campaign on Mental Health Awareness.

With the above information, it is, therefore, clear that we have a long way to go before dealing with this menace. Firstly, the number of psychiatrists and mental institutions records relatively low as to what is required. Therefore, most of the patients who seek help like Lethabo, rarely receive the full treatment. Insurance companies need to recognizing mental disorders ad any other disease that needs cover. This cover will also enable people to access medical help easier. Lack of resources in this field of medicine is wanting.  

The director of South African College encourages the intervention of skilled professionals as it plays a crucial role in the solution to this crisis.

“The first step to assisting these patients is by talking to their families. Many patients take longer to recover because they feel lonely, and misunderstood” says Chambers

Increasing awareness and improving policies to educate the public about mental health are critical. These amendments will encourage more people to seek help openly and share their diagnoses and eventually provide a favorable healing environment.

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