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12 March 2004

Health system a let-down for mentally ill

Catherine, a Mpumalangan woman with a family history of depression, has learned the hard way about the failure of our health services in looking after the mentally ill.

Catherine, a Mpumalangan woman with a family history of depression, has learned the hard way about the failure of our health services in looking after the mentally ill.

Not the first time
"This is unfortunately just one of several similar cases," says Dr Anne Marie Potgieter, a psychiatrist and chairman of the advisory board of SADASG. She is one of many concerned psychiatrists worried about mental health care funding and treatment.

Dr Potgieter commented on the closure of several local and rural clinics. "These were set up according to the government's policy on primary health care, but the plan has not worked. People now have to travel very long distances to get help and sometimes it is just not there," she says. Many hospitals have deteriorated and offer sub-standard conditions, which applies particularly in less developed areas like Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

Cost of care
She should also have access to psychiatric expertise, but would never be able to afford it. Current rates for private psychiatric consultation range between R380 and R750, no mean sum for the affluent, but definitely out of reach of the country's middle to lower income earners.

Poverty
This is discouraging news because poverty is a major cause of depression and suicide, especially among the increasing numbers of unemployed youth in South Africa. The people who need help the most are therefore people most deprived of it.

 
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