News / South Africa

Asanda Matlhare
Intern Journalist
2 minute read
26 Oct 2021
7:22 am

Mental health being neglected, concedes minister Phaahla

Asanda Matlhare

Expert says Covid-19 has increased the mental health burden in several ways.

Picture: iStock

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said on Monday that the stabilisation of the pandemic through the vaccine roll-out will allow for the recovery and rebuilding of health facilities affected by the pandemic, as well as establishing proper mental health services – something that was weak prior to the pandemic.

He was speaking during the commemoration of World Mental Health Day. The day was commemorated under the theme “Mental Health in an unequal world.

Together we can make a difference. Mental Health for all: Let’s make it a reality.”

Phaahla said the health department was continuously burdened with physical illnesses and little attention was paid to mental health.

“We do not want to be reminded of the tragedy of Life Esidimeni, which is one of the most palpable exposures of the shortcomings of our mental health services,” he said.

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The president of the Psychology Society of South Africa, Professor Garth Stevens, said this year’s theme was particularly pertinent to South Africa.

“We support the initiatives undertaken by the department of health, partly because we understand that this country continues to be one of the most unequal societies in the world.

“Covid has unfortunately revealed those inequalities,” he said.

He spoke of the persistent underresourcing of the mental health sector, that disproportionally affects the margins of society.

Stevens said Covid increased the mental health burden in several ways, among them an increase in mood and anxiety disorders and levels of substance use and abuse during this time.

“The pandemic also affected those with pre-existing mental health conditions,” he said.

Medical Research Council researcher Dr Sumaiyah Docrat said a study in December 2016 by the department of health and herself commissioned a costing study to make the best planning for mental health possible.

“What became evident was the need to document and evaluate broader health systems resources, for mental health at all levels of the system.

She added it was important for children who suffered from trauma to seek mental services timeously.

“Most mental health disorders have an onset before the age of 18,” Docrat said.

“The earlier this age group accessed mental health facilities, before their symptoms develop sufficiently, the better,” she said.


  • In the 2016-17 financial year, inpatients dominated the expenditure graph.
  • SA spent over R8 billion on mental health services at all levels of the health system, which equates to approximately R180 per uninsured South African and represented 5% of the health budget