Mental Illness in South Africa

by Vocational Impact|Oct 18 2021|Blog
Mental Health South Africa

The Mental Health Research

Recent studies have revealed the poor mental health standing in South Africa. 

As many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems (and this does not include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia). 

Furthermore, research reveals that over 40% of people living with HIV in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. 

A study done by UCT’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health indicates that, in low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, one in three women suffers from postnatal depression, while research from rural KwaZulu-Natal shows that 41% of pregnant women are depressed – more than three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries.

Dr Eugene Allers, a leading South African psychiatrist, believes that when crime and motor-vehicle accidents are taken into consideration, up to 6 million South Africans could suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

What’s more, because “people don’t know where to go to get help, or are too scared to seek it, the stats we have are still not a true reflection of what is actually happening on the ground.”

However limited, looking at what evidence we do have, one can safely conclude that the state of country’s mental wellbeing is in severe crisis. Yet, despite the acute need for it, South Africa’s mental healthcare resources are wholly unequipped to handle the burden placed on them. It is claimed that less than 16% of sufferers receive treatment for mental illnesses. 

And, although over 85% of these patients are dependent on public health-sector services, there are only 18 beds for every 100 000 people available in such hospitals (and only 1% of these are reserved for children and adolescents!).

The Root of the mental health Crisis in South Africa 

The primary burden of mental healthcare falls on community-based providers, “Clinics, support groups, even lay counsellors and community leaders are having to step in where institutionalised help is not available. 

Only 27% of South Africans reporting severe mental illness ever receive treatment. This means that nearly three-quarters of these sufferers are not accessing any form of mental health care at all.”

In addition to a lack of resources, stigmas surrounding mental health pose a major stumbling block when it comes to treating the disease in South Africa. “In Zulu, there is not even a word for ‘depression’ – it’s basically not deemed a real illness in African culture. 

As a result, sufferers are afraid of being discriminated against, disowned by their families or even fired from work, should they admit to having a problem. There is still the perception that someone with a mental illness is crazy, dangerous or weak. Because there is often an absence of physical symptoms with mental illness, it is considered ‘not real’, a figment of the imagination.”

Do you want to be a part of the solution and put your psychology degree to good use? Get in touch and we can help you with community psychology work in South Africa.

Read about how past Vocational Impact psychology and mental health students have already been making an impact here.

Would you like to Volunteer with us or know more?

You can read more about our volunteering projects in South Africa here. Furthermore, you can find out more about Vocational Impact here.

Questions? Would you like to participate? That’s great – feel free to email us or call/whatsapp us on: +44 (0) 7704 129 816

Alternatively, complete an application to begin the process of volunteering, and we’ll be in touch with more details!

Mental HealthPsychologySouth Africa

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