25 May 2010

Government shirks mental health responsibility

The South African government needs to give mental health the national recognition that it deserves, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.


The South African government needs to give mental health the national recognition that it deserves, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

With minimal funding allocated to Mental Health issues, NGO’s such as SADAG do a tremendous amount of work with no government funding and support in order to reach out to communities that find themselves overwhelmed with mental illness.

There is no doubt that mental health plays a significant part in many illnesses such as HIV and Aids, TB, diabetes, and heart attacks; yet the government doesn’t deem it necessary to put funds into advocacy networks coping daily with mental health problems from patients who find themselves without services and support.

SADAG has a 15-line call centre which is open seven days a week and receives up to 400 calls every day. If ever there was a bad reflection on the state of the nation this is the indication.

Links with physical illness

Dr Thabo Rangaka, Council Member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) says, “the government must begin to link mental wellness with the fight against HIV and Aids, TB and malaria. People with many illnesses are not able to adhere to treatment protocols and instructions given to them due to their depression. With the result, the above illnesses cannot be defeated unless stigma against mental illness is reduced and removed”. This starts and stops at the Minister of Health and his commitment to mental health.

 The Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi gave a speech at the National Assembly in parliament during the debate on the health budget vote and in 40 pages of rhetoric, not one single mention was made of mental health.

CEO of SADAG, Elizabeth Matare says: “as a patient advocacy organisation representing thousands of South Africans with mental health problems ranging from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, phobias and schizophrenia.

We are disturbed by the omission by the honorable minister, of any mention of one of the integral aspects of total wellbeing, namely mental health, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“ SADAG has been trying for many years with limited success to share and demonstrate the importance of mainstreaming mental health in Primary Health Care.”

A patient’s experience

According to a mental health patient: “I was in Potchefstroom Hospital about two months ago for a suicide attempt. They tied me to the bed at first.

“When I asked them to let me go to the bathroom; they just let me go alone. I even went outside to the parking lot. I believe that if I were desperate to try again, I could have easily done so and they wouldn’t even have noticed.” 

“The care of Mentally ill people and people living with bipolar disorder must be accepted as specialised and needs the same dedication as the care of people living with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer,” says Dr Rangaka.

It is imperative that the government realises the importance of mental health. They need to recognise that it is as important as all the other illnesses and deserves proper attention and funding.

 SADAG is highlighting the stigma surrounding all mental health and on this forthcoming bipolar day, 26 May, will be coordinating workshops around the country throughout the week. Patient callers can reach SADAG on their toll free helpline 0800 70 80 90, 8am-8pm or on www.

Dr Rangaka challenged the government by saying, “in the name of deinstitutionalisation of mental health care, governments, including that of South Africa, have dismantled mental health care facilities and dumped the sick on their communities. This is really a manifestation of further stigmatisation of the mentally ill!”

For further information contact:

Cassey Amoore  SADAG 011 262 6396

Gaby Kriel press liaison SADAG 082 924 2698

(SADAG press release, May 2010)


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