Durban — Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla says South Africa is still facing several challenges in the area of mental health. However, the Mental Health Services Grant established in 2018 intends to increase human resources at the “coalface”.
It would also ensure that staff at primary health care level are trained to improve their skills in early identification, management and referral of those who need higher-level interventions.
Phaahla was speaking at the SA Mental Health Conference. The focus was on the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2023-2030 to popularise it among stakeholders. The framework was adopted on March 30 by the National Health Council to “respond to identified challenges and further strengthen quality and access to mental health services”.
The minister said the grant had enabled them to contract psychiatrists, psychologists, registered counsellors, social workers, and occupational therapists to complement health-care staff that render mental health services in primary health-care facilities.
“The grant is also used to pay contract specialists to assist with the backlog of forensic mental observations. Another area where the health system is doing well is in the availability of psychotropic medication,” he said.
Areas requiring more significant effort were improving awareness about mental health promotion, prevention of mental illness, where to access care, and reduction of stigma, Phaala said.
The absence of data makes it impossible for South Africa to accurately record its mental health incidence and prevalence leading to misleading interpretations, Phaahla said.
“The Department of Health (DoH) will continue to prioritise mental health. Mental health is central in our efforts towards achieving a long and healthy life for all South Africans,” said Phaahla.
In the process of developing the newly approved Policy Framework and Strategy for mental health, the DoH, with the nine provincial health departments, documented the situation regarding mental health services.
The report highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of South Africa’s mental health programme. There were limitations in available beds as well as the quality of infrastructure, while “the scourge of drug addiction aggravates this situation”, Phaahla said.
All provinces have at least one facility rendering services for people with dual diagnosis, except Mpumalanga, which refers patients to Gauteng.
The equitable distribution of such resources needed attention, he added.
“For instance, the Western Cape and Gauteng have 50 and 72 psychiatrists in the public sector, respectively, while the Northern Cape has three and Mpumalanga four psychiatrists.”
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