South Africa’s mental health system is facing an unprecedented crisis.
A new report from the National Mental Health Foundation (NMHF) says that over half of South Africans have been experiencing a mental health emergency, a figure that is increasing as the economy struggles.
The report also says that at least 1.7 million people have been denied essential services, including mental health care.
As part of a new initiative, the NMHF will launch a “mental health network” that will connect with people across the country to offer support and assistance to people with mental health problems.
The organisation hopes to provide “a bridge between people with a mental illness and the health system,” said the organisation’s head of policy, Toni van der Schouw.
“We’re not going to go to people and say ‘Hey, we want to help you with your mental health problem, but we’re going to ask them to put it in a box,'” she said.
The NMHF launched a campaign last week to highlight mental health issues in South Africa.
It aims to “increase awareness of mental health and build awareness that the crisis exists, and that the South African people have the power to deal with it,” van der Schew said.
As the crisis has intensified, so has the attention given to mental health in South African society.
The country’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has said that the country is facing a “moral crisis” and that “no one should be ashamed of who they are”.
“Mental health is a national priority,” van den Bosch said.
“In the current context, mental health is of utmost importance.”
The government has pledged to spend $4 billion to deal the crisis and has also promised to boost funding for mental health services.
The new initiative comes as South Africa continues to face a growing public health crisis, with the number of cases of mental illness rising in the country.
A survey released earlier this year by the South Africa Hospitality Association showed that while the number had dropped since 2015, there was still a long way to go.
More than 80 per cent of people surveyed said that they had a problem or were experiencing a problem with mental illness.
According to the survey, one in three people in the community said they had “experienced a significant mental health condition” in the past year.
The numbers of cases have also increased in rural areas where people live in rural settings, which is a common place for mental illness to occur.
“When you have a population that is already suffering from mental illness, you are creating a greater risk of transmission,” van de Bosch told The Guardian.
“You are creating an environment where there is a greater chance of the mental illness being transmitted, which can be an issue because the stigma around mental illness is so high.”
The Mental Health Commission of South Africa (MHC) said in its report on mental health that there were more than 100,000 people in SA with a diagnosis of mental disorder, of whom 30 per cent were aged between 16 and 64.
The MHC’s CEO, Ralf Jäger, told the BBC that the “dramatic” increase in cases was “a reflection of a changing culture of care for the mentally ill”.
“People are not simply looking to seek treatment or help, they are looking to get treatment,” he said.
South Africa is also dealing with a rising number of suicides.
“There are some who are feeling more alone and more isolated in their lives, and the suicide rate has doubled in the last 10 years,” van De Wijngaard, the CEO of the South Africans Mental Health Association, said.
Some mental health organisations have also said that their services have been cut or reduced.
For instance, the mental hospital in Cape Town which is operated by the Mental Health Service has seen its capacity reduced, and its operations have been transferred to an overseas facility, said van de Wijns.
However, the new report suggests that many South Africans are still struggling with mental distress and say that the mental crisis is not being dealt with in a timely manner.
In the report, Van den Boschan said that many people do not feel able to talk to anyone about their mental health.
“It’s a situation that people have to cope with,” she said, adding that the government is not acting on mental illness in a way that is appropriate to the country’s needs.
“I think we’re not really responding in a thoughtful and timely way to what is happening, and it is affecting the mental wellbeing of people.”
For more information about the NMHA, visit their website.