Updated 04 October 2013

Why SA professionals are so depressed

SA professionals are a depressed lot, according to medical scheme stats. This does not surprise her at all, says Susan Erasmus.

SA professionals are a depressed lot, according to medical scheme stats. This does not surprise her at all, says Susan Erasmus.

A press release and a poll alerted me last week to the fact that life in SA certainly is not always a picnic in the park. (Well, so to speak – would you take the chance of having a picnic in the park without an armed guard by your side?)

First the press release from Profmed, a medical scheme for graduate professionals. Here are three points from it that struck me:

  • The number of professionals diagnosed with depression has increased significantly, according to Profmed medical scheme.
  • Profmed’s member profiles in 2013, compared with last year, showed a 50% increase in those diagnosed with severe depressive episodes without psychotic symptoms.
  • There was also a 75% increase in Profmed members suffering from a severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms for the same period.
I am not usually given to whingeing, but today I am going to make an exception. It gets a bit tedious always to have to look for the silver lining. Bear with me as I look at the black cloud today. Sometimes a good moaning session is just what the doctor ordered.

I am not talking about constructive criticism – actually, there isn’t really anything like that. It’s just a nice way to tell someone what they’ve done is crap, and how you think they can make it better. No one likes criticism, whether constructive or not.

Earlier this week the following poll was posted on News24. Here are the results.

OK, so South Africans are feeling financial pressure. No surprises there, and they’re also not alone, what with the global crisis and so forth. But their situation is  in fact different, especially for graduate professionals. Here’s why:

  • We live in a country where it is very difficult to maintain a moderately middle-class way of living. Taxes are high, and benefits from them few for those who pay a large portion of them. In many other countries where taxes are high, medical costs and pensions are covered by the state. So are school fees. Here professionals need to make their own provisions for these things, even in state schools – and none of these come cheap.
  • Home security and armed response are also the individual’s responsibility. There goes another whack of money every month.
  • You just cannot afford living without insurance in a country where there are thousands of unlicensed drivers on the road. Home break-ins are regular occurrences, so there is another essential expense.
  • Expensive petrol is a worldwide problem, but that doesn’t stop it putting pressure on many South African households.
  • Municipal bills, especially electricity bills have gone through the roof. Mine has trebled in the last five years.
  • There seems to be little correlation between the cost of living and what people get paid. We have a large group of people in this country who are known as ‘the working poor’. But even professional people are struggling to make their money last to the end of the month. Some of them may be spending unnecessarily on luxuries, but most of them are just struggling to survive.
  • Public transport is often poor and dangerous. Buying and maintaining a car is very expensive, compared to other countries, where second-hand cars are often dirt-cheap. Here they are not that much cheaper than new ones.
  • The SA middle class is often reminded of how much more fortunate they are than many other millions in the country. That is true, and often people who have always been relatively comfortable have no idea of what it means to be hungry or cold. But comparisons are odious: if you have broken your leg, you don’t feel more fortunate than the guy in the hospital bed next to you who has broken both legs.
  • Job security is something of the past. Companies retrench left, right and centre, and especially older professionals, and many young and unqualified people find themselves without employment.
  • It’s tough for young people to make a start – salaries can be low, expenses are high, and often young working people have to look after family members who are unemployed, or whose retirement income just isn’t enough. Young people are struggling everywhere, but in many other countries there is a social security system in place that will see to it that if you hit the skids, you won’t end up on the street. Here grants are very low – the state simply can’t afford to increase them.
  • Stressed professionals are urged to manage their stress levels and look after their health and not to overwork. But how? Staff ratios are dropping everywhere, and there is simply more to do, often for less money.

I have probably now made you thoroughly miserable. But sometimes misery loves company. It’s just that we are all feeling the pinch big time, and for many people just maintaining a basic and moderate lifestyle means going into debt.

One thing at least, in the last week before payday, when a beggar approaches you at the traffic light, you can say with a clear conscience that you have no money, because it’s true.

I’m off to go and buy some happy pills on my credit card.

Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.




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