While the physical health risks of Covid are being better managed through vaccinations, the permanent impact of the pandemic, poverty and crime continue to weigh heavily on people in South Africa, with at least 75% unable to access mental health services.
That is according to a report released in August by the SA Journal of Psychiatry.
Sunday was World Mental Health Day, which was themed “Mental Health in an Unequal World”, which, according to the SA Federation for Mental Health, made the call to actualise accessible, quality mental healthcare for all in South Africa especially pertinent.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the new Mental Health Atlas showed the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that is aligned with needs.
“The latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, paints a disappointing picture of a worldwide failure to provide people with the mental health services they need, at a time when the pandemic is highlighting a growing need for mental health support,” said the WHO.
“Concomitant to great disparities of economic resources is access to mental health care. Less than one in 10 people living with a mental health condition in our country receive the care they need,” the federation said.
“This access largely depends on if the person has medical aid and where they live. It is evident that across our country, people have vastly different experiences in accessing care for their mental health conditions.”
Speaking at this year’s A Healthy Mind mental health summit – mental health activist Hailey Samuels said the high level of stress associated with the pandemic has made people more vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
“Globally, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of the population with an increase in cases of stress, depression, suicide and anxiety due to Covid,” she said.
“Fear of infection and becoming ill has created considerable stress for many people, including losing loved ones to Covid, job losses and business closures, which have brought economic anxiety.”
Samuels said a psychologist working for Doctors Without Borders, an NGO providing health support and services in different countries, including South Africa, reported a decrease in mental health visits during the lockdown period in one of their facilities in Tshwane.
Mental health professional Joe Parks said the mental health impact of Covid was also a global crisis and data presented by the South African College of Applied Psychology suggested that one in six South Africans suffered from anxiety, depression, or a substance use disorder.
“The data also shows that 40% of South Africans living with HIV have a comorbid mental disorder, while 41% of pregnant women are depressed, more than 60% of South Africans are suffering from post-traumatic stress.
“Meanwhile, only 27% of South Africans with severe mental disorders receive treatment, indicating how mental illness has been neglected by the health system in our country.”
According to the Human Sciences Research Council, 33% of South Africans were depressed, 45% were fearful, and 29% were lonely during the first lockdown.