Lack of Mental Health Services in South Africa

There is an increasing demand for psychological care in South Africa. It is estimated that one in six people in South Africa suffer from depression or anxiety. This does not include more serious psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. On the other hand, there are only 1,12 psychiatrists, 1,28 psychologists and 1,6 social workers per 400,000 people in South Africa. And, of the 23 mental hospitals in the country, only 18 (mental health) beds are allocated per 100,000 people.

To say that this is a national crisis would be an understatement.

South Africa is a country where poverty is a real problem, and many people in the country live below the poverty line. Of the mental health professionals and services available in South Africa, most are based in urban areas, highlighting that mental health services are out of reach to the majority of South Africans who live in rural communities. And, as mental health services are predominantly limited to white middle-class individuals, many people living in poverty do not have the financial means to seek professional help.

So what do we do?

With the increased demand for psychological treatment, one has to think about social responsibility. In this context, brief psychotherapy is an appropriate place to deal with the influx of crisis situations, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. A person, having no assistance in dealing with the problems that affects him or her, is fragile and therefore motivated for change. These people often show greater success with immediate intervention programmes.

Given this, it may be necessary for the mental health community in South Africa to look at providing a means of early diagnosis and prompt treatment. The aim should be to solve or implement a plan of action, trying to alleviate the suffering caused, and thus seeking to avoid future complications. While it doesn't address everything, it does provide a starting point to elevating the mental and emotional distress of many people in South Africa.

 If South Africa is to follow international trends, mental health problems will only increase each year, meaning more people will be at serious risk. Instead of this happening, South Africa's position on mental health care should be that every citizen who needs access to mental healthcare should be able to access these services.

Additionally, the shortage of mental healthcare professionals should be addressed at a school and tertiary level, as well as in the government's healthcare budget so that the industry can attract and retain professionals who can work in both a community and state level. Currently, the conditions of state hospitals and the lack of appropriate remuneration for most psychology and psychiatric professionals is one of the main reasons why more psychology professionals go into private practice rather than seeking work in public healthcare systems.

Until we get this right, the psychiatric morbidity crisis will continue to escalate in South Africa. People with mental illness deserve better - support, treatment, understanding, and assurance. As a country, we can do better.

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