05 December 2008

Millions in SA have mental illness

One in four people worldwide will suffer from a mental or behavioural disorder some time in their lives.

One in four people worldwide will suffer from a mental or behavioural disorder some time in their lives. This means that 450 million people worldwide are currently suffering from one or more of these conditions, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The South African Stress and Health (SASH) study, conducted between 2002 and 2004, was the first nationally-representative study of common mental disorders in South Africa. It was conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation's World Mental Health (WMH) Survey Initiative. Of the 4351 adults interviewed 16,55% had experienced a mental disorder in the last 12 months and 30.3% in their lifetime. Anxiety, substance and mood disorders were the most common.

The cost to countries is huge. According to the Mental Health Information Centre (MHIC), direct costs include the costs of treatment and rehabilitation as covered by medical aid and other managed health care schemes. Indirect costs include loss in productivity, decreased motivation, increased absenteeism, increased staff turnover, early retirement, safety risks, accidents, interpersonal conflict, suicide and the cost of inadequate or inappropriate treatment.

Treatment effective
Fortunately the advances in research and science have greatly improved the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders can lead to rapid recovery and can substantially reduce economic and personal costs of illness. The WHO estimates that 60% of people with depression can recover with appropriate treatment and 80% of those with schizophrenia can be free of relapse after one year of treatment and family intervention.

People are unfortunately not always treated appropriately. Various reasons have been suggested, including a lack of resources, facilities and funding. Many medical aids also discriminate against the mentally ill by allocating inadequate funding for appropriate treatment.

In South Africa, only 1% of the health budget is spent on mental health. According to the South African Society of Psychiatry (Sasop), there are only 350 psychiatrists in South Africa, 177 who work full-time and 56 part-time. The rest work for the state.

According to the MHIC, the single most significant reason why people do not seek help or do not receive appropriate care remains the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Where to go for help
For more information on mental illness or referral to a mental health professional, contact the Mental Health Information Centre (021) 938 9229. – (Health24)

Updated July 2008

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