The 10th October every year is World Mental Health Day which draws attention to the mental health needs and issues across the globe. The theme this year, set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and The World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH), is “Greater Investment – Greater Access”. This is important for South Africa since 1 in 3 South Africans will or do suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. The harsh reality is that fewer than 1 in 10 people with a mental illness in South Africa has access to mental health care.
In most countries across the globe, mental health is not only not a priority but is inaccessible to the country’s poorest and most vulnerable. South Africa is no different. Our country urgently needs greater investment in mental healthcare, not just for the wealthy who live in big cities, and mental healthcare needs to be prioritised for there really is no health without mental health.
If the Life Esidimeni tragedy taught us anything it is that we need better mental healthcare for all South Africans. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined this even further. “With so many South African’s mental health impacted by COVID19, SADAG’s call volumes have doubled in the last 6 months with people feeling overwhelmed with depression, financial problems, anxiety and stress,” says SADAG Operations Director, Cassey Chambers. It is imperative that mental healthcare is prioritised - not just on paper but in action. With more people needing to access mental healthcare in communities is our already strained mental health system ready to help the influx of people who now need help?
While South Africa has taken steps towards strengthening mental health care in the last 20 years including reforming the Mental Health Care Act 2002 and developing a National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020, but more needs to be done.
Psychiatrist and Chairperson of the SA Mental Health Alliance, Dr Mvuyiso Talatala, says, “Less than 5% of the national budget is spent on Mental Healthcare, and the majority of that budget is allocated to inpatient hospital care. There isn’t nearly enough budget and resources allocated for outpatient programmes to help patients once they leave hospitals, and there isn’t enough money invested in community mental health systems.”
South Africa’s mental healthcare system is a reactive one focused on treating the most severe conditions, rather than preventing or providing early interventions. Cassey Chambers, SADAG Operations Director says, “The only way to change the system is to advocate for more investment into mental health by appealing to governments both provincially and nationally to prioritize Mental Health, not just on paper but in the budgets too.”
This World Mental Health Day (10 October), let’s raise our voices together to help advocate for better mental healthcare and to recognise that mental healthcare is an integral part of the health care system. Now, more than ever, South Africans from all areas and walks of life need and deserve better mental health care. Let’s work together to get our government to invest more money into mental health.
SADAG is hosting various activities, events and webinars throughout October to create awareness around mental health and provide more support services to people across the country. SADAG is focused on providing support through the 23 helplines available 24 hours a day, over 160 Support Groups helping to bridge the gap of mental health support in areas with little or no resources, providing training and webinars on various mental health issues to help raise awareness and destigmatise mental health. For more information on the various activities planned for October, visit www.sadag.org.