Seeking help for frail mental health ‘nothing to be ashamed of’

Sinisi said mental health services were available in most parts of the country, but there was room for these services to be more effective, especially in the rural areas.

Improving mental health is becoming crucial worldwide because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which weighs heavily on people, a psychologist says.

“Society is forced to prioritise and meet their psychological needs in order to maintain positive mental health during this time,” clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and group analyst Dr Vincenzo Sinisi said.

“Our psychological needs include love, care, safety, security, acceptance, belonging, hope and opportunities to grow in order to participate socially and economically in meaningful ways.”

Sinisi said each of these components helped one build a sense of self-respect and purpose, while some mental health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, were biologically rooted and one needed to be honest when in need of help.

“Improving our mental health requires us to improve our society and interpersonal relationships from birth,” Sinisi said.

“Mental health is unlikely when you go home each night to be abused, or if work and money are the only relationships you have. Improving the mental health system can’t be separated from the broader systems within which it exists,” he said.

“This will rest on our collective ability to pull together as a country, to acknowledge and drive the vast degree of economic growth we need and accountability this requires. This is not only so that each South African can live a life of dignity, but also for us to be able to create the kind of capacity we need to see in the mental health system.”

Seeking help for mental issues was nothing to be ashamed of because in an environment which prioritises biological explanations of psychological suffering, antidepressant medication was cheap and helpful, but often did not address the underlying issues.

Sinisi said mental health services were available in most parts of the country, but there was room for these services to be more effective, especially in the rural areas.

“At present, people living in and around the metros have access to mental health services and many have much to offer,” said Sinisi.

“During my own community service, I noticed many clinics struggled to develop effective psychotherapeutic systems because they relied on the one or two community service clinicians. These clinicians were filled with fire and would do their very best, but each new rotation would see much of what they had created come apart, as the new clinicians started from scratch.

“I hope things have changed since then.”

Unfortunately, he said, South Africa’s inequality played itself out in the mental health setting, too.

“If you are in or near an affluent area, you are more likely to have access to services, while rural and poorer areas have less to offer and find it difficult to attract clinicians who are willing to work there for extended periods of time. I believe that there is much to be said for creating a culture of group therapy interventions over one-on-one in our clinics.

“These are likely to be more appropriate for our setting and can offer continuity in settings where staff turnover is high; at least the members remain the same,” Sinisi said.

A private mental health service is available on

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

Read more on these topics

anxiety depression mental health