Picture Shan Pillay Deputy Minister of Health Dr Gwen Ramokgopa with Deputy Minister of Energy Ms Barbara Thompson on the right go for a walkabout at Townhill Mental Hospital.

Durban - Illicit drugs and alcohol as well as increasingly stressful lifestyles are playing a growing role in the onset of mental illness in our society.

That’s according to deputy minister for health, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, who was speaking during her visit to the Townhill Psychiatric Hospital yesterday.

“Drugs and alcohol are contributing a great deal in triggering mental illness, especially in our adolescents,” Ramokgopa said.

The minister had been invited to the hospital by members of the ANC Women’s League, who keep an oversight of the hospital, to address concerns by staff.

On her walkabout through the hospital and its grounds, the minister met staff and patients, gleaning more about what the department of health could do to improve facilities within the mental health-care institution.

The minister said Townhill hospital played an extremely important role in the rehabilitation of young adults who had succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse.

“The level of stress and tension that exists in society, brought on by our fast-paced lifestyles, also adds to the burden of mental illness in our country. Institutions like Townhill Hospital have become sanctuaries for communities in trouble,” the minister said.

Hospital chief executive Zanele Mfeka said the majority of patients being treated for mental illnesses related to substance abuse were between the ages of 13 and 25.

The hospital has 304 patients and a staff of 600.

Mfeka said the staff were very happy about Ramokgopa’s visit.

“The support we have received and continue to receive from the government goes a long way in ensuring that our patients are well cared for.”

The minister visited two wards at the hospital yesterday, one of them being where the patients who have displayed psychotic behaviour are treated.

According to social worker Dianne Roos the mentally ill face discrimination and their basic rights are violated, all due to the stigma associated with mental health problems.

“South Africa has come a long way in changing this perception,’ Roos said.

Speaking to the Daily News after her walkabout yesterday, Ramokgopa said her initial impression of the hospital was a positive one.

“The grounds are well kept and green, wards are clean and patients are well taken care of,” she said.

Some staff raised concerns about infrastructure around the hospital, relating to the safety of patients.

More “seclusion rooms” were needed, as well as greater wheelchair access.

R65 million has already been used to upgrade existing wards in the hospital, which was built in 1880.

But the minister confirmed yesterday that a further R65m would be pumped into renovating the hospital further over the next three years.

She said the hospital was a heritage site that “needs to be maintained and resources need to be improved”.

Ramokgopa commended the nursing staff at Town Hill hospital for their dedication to their patients.

Daily News