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09 February 2005

Psychiatrists unite against discrimination

The South African Society of Psychiatrists has been instrumental in drafting a White Paper to address the stigma and possible discrimination towards patients with

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The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) has been instrumental in drafting a White Paper to address the stigma and possible discrimination towards patients with psychiatric disorders. The paper will be presented to parliament today, World Mental Health Day.

Of particular concern in South Africa, is the apparent discrimination by most medical schemes towards those suffering from psychiatric disorders, even though certain acts in the South African constitution state clearly that no such discrimination be permitted. “Psychiatry and patients with psychiatric disorders have experienced severe discrimination over the ages. In a modern democratic South Africa such discrimination goes against the spirit of transformation in this country. It is also against the constitutional rights of emotionally ill individuals, “comments Dr Eugene Allers, President of SASOP.

“The main purpose that we want to achieve through this white paper is to thwart the growing perception that a psychiatric disorder is expensive and difficult to treat. This is becoming a self-perpetuating myth and is preventing sufferers from seeking treatment,” comments Nusreen Khan, National coordinator for REACH (Rights, Education and Activism for Consumer Healthcare) – a key participant in the drafting of this White Paper. “SASOP and REACH are striving to encourage persons with emotional disabilities to receive the appropriate treatment without being stigmatised,” she says.

Leading cause of ill-health
Approximately 450 million people currently suffer from psychological conditions worldwide – placing mental disorders among the leading cause of ill-health globally. In South Africa, an alarming 150 000 people attempt suicide every year – with the suicide rate amongst children aged between 10 and 14 having more than doubled over the last 15 years.

Due to advances in modem medicine, psychiatric disorders can now be diagnosed as reliably and accurately as most common physical disorders. Although effective treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from health professionals. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent required care and treatment from reaching individuals with mental disorders.

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