Durban – Inequality, unemployment, violent protests and random shootings are among the factors putting the nation’s mental health at risk, according to Dr Olive Shisana, an honorary professor at UCT.
She said the 2021 Mental State of the World report identified South Africa as the lowest-ranked country for mental well-being. Despite the absence of recent national and research data on mental health, the manifestation of drivers of poor mental health is evident.
“South Africans live in a country with factors conducive to developing poor mental health. Social and structural drivers are contributing to the observed declines in mental health,” she said.
Moreover, she said poverty harms mental health and often manifests as psychological distress, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, and suicide. Shisana added that inequality, a close associate with poverty, also contributes to deteriorating psychological well-being. Furthermore, unemployment is associated with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, restlessness and feelings of worthlessness, which are markers of poor mental health.
She added that these challenges occur in a society already traumatised by apartheid, which destroyed the family structure through migrant labour models continuing to this day. As a result, most children live in homes with absent fathers, and women face the pressure and the stress of raising children alone.
“Such experiences impact women’s mental health and deprive children of a gender-balanced life, negatively impacting social relations and mental health, often manifesting as childhood trauma,” she said.
Furthermore, Shisana said these social determinants and high rates of poor mental health occur in a country with highly inadequate mental health services. She added that only 4% of the national health budget is allocated to mental health, and 78% of the budget is spent on psychiatric hospitals, leaving minimal funding for community-based services.
“The low rate of psychologists and psychiatrists per population is reason to be concerned about the capacity of the country to provide mental health services for a psychologically wounded society. Moreover, most of these mental health professionals practise in the private sector, serving the few who have medical aid, leaving the majority without services,” she said.
WhatsApp your views on this story at 071 485 7995.