Updated 11 November 2019

The good and the bad: Public psychiatric healthcare in SA

While some strides have been made in mental health awareness and care in South Africa, there is still a long way to go.

Damian Hare was once on medical aid and had access to private psychiatric care. But that is no longer the case so he uses public health care facilities.

Hare soon found out that the wait to get an initial appointment is really long and that there are always long lines to get medication. “With private medical care, the experience makes you feel like you really matter. Also, you get taken care of really well. Appointments with doctors are also not rushed like with public health care.”

Private care vs. public care 

According to statistics, about 16% to 17% of South Africans have medical aid. Government’s proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill is meant to bridge the gap between private and public. Much of the NHI talks have been centred around catering for primary health care services.

Hare says psychiatric care should also be given a priority. “I think that there should be dedicated psychiatric sections away from the general medical sections, better care should be taken of psychiatric patients’ needs because we are fragile,” he says. 

A good start in proper care

 He also believes that new mental health facilities should be built. A recently opened facility in Kimberley is one such example. The state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital in Northern Cape had been under construction since 2006. At the launch Premier Zamani Saul described the hospital as a symbol of transformation that must restore dignity to the most vulnerable and the most fragile in our society – the mentally ill. 

There is hope that this new facility will help to change the state of psychiatric care in the Northern Cape, and lead a way for all provinces to be provided with similar hospitals. “We can only achieve that if we commit to true essentials of public service. The new facility has services for adolescents and children, a nurses training college is also being discussed. The hospital will have 160 beds,” he says. 

Hare says the hospital is a huge win for South Africa, and a step in the right direction of prioritising mental health. 

The numbers speak for themselves

 According to a 2014 Sunday Times investigation published on the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) website, one in three people in the country suffer from some sort of mental illness. 

The South African College of Applied Psychology notes that: “Of the people living with mental illness, 85% of them depend on public health institutions. However, the system fails these patients with there being only 18 beds for every 100 000 people. Children and adolescents only receive 1% of these beds.”

One of the aims of the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013- 2020 is to see improvement in the mental health of all South Africans. The policy’s purpose is to provide a guide to provinces for the improvement of mental health, preventing mental illness, rehabilitation and treatment

– Health-e News 

Image credit: iStock


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