Mental and physical health: A complex interplay that requires awareness from here on, says expert

We mustn't forget that mental health is a disease.Picture by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 /Unsplash

We mustn't forget that mental health is a disease.Picture by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 /Unsplash

Published Aug 2, 2023


A pressing concern that requires immediate attention and action. With South Africa ranking highest in the global study on mental health distress, individuals, communities, and government entities must come together to address this crisis.

Did you know that in a study of nearly 500 000 people across 64 countries, South Africans were ranked with the highest percentage of the population who are distressed or struggling with their mental health?

As South Africa grapples with the prevalence of mental health issues such as depression and schizophrenia, it is clear that the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 have played a role in exacerbating these conditions.

Social isolation has had a profound impact on the mental well-being of individuals, leading to an increased need for support and awareness.

The recent study conducted by the Wits/Medical Research Council Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU) sheds light on the extent of the problem. With over a quarter of South Africans experiencing probable depression, it is evident that urgent action is required.

Surprisingly, the study challenges the commonly held belief that individuals in economically disadvantaged rural settings are more susceptible to mental health issues.

It reveals that young adults in metropolitan areas exhibit higher levels of depression compared to their rural counterparts. Furthermore, the Northern Cape, despite being predominantly rural, has the highest rates of probable depression and anxiety.

In the past few years, we've seen advances in the methodology of diagnosis, which have increased mental health services, according to Moustafa Kamel, the Medical Affairs Director at Janssen South Africa.

“We mustn't forget that mental health is a disease. Commonly the perception is that environmental factors which activate the disease, and, while that may sometimes be the case, it's a lot more complex than that.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health conditions are increasing worldwide. The fact that mental health problems are on the rise is largely believed by some to be a myth.

The lack of data and increased self-reporting were seen as contributing to the mythical epidemic of mental illness, which was still difficult to quantify before Covid-19.

Depression, for example, is a progressive disease. Patients may confine themselves to their rooms, not engage with others, and occupy themselves with pessimistic thoughts.

If not treated, depression could progress to a severe stage, in which patients completely isolate themselves, and ultimately engage in suicidal ideation.

“Offering comforting information that counselling can take place both in psychological as well as psychiatric realms, these options will see to both the mental and medical needs of the patient.

“If counselling achieves the desired ends, then treatment starts and ends there, but if the condition has a medical component, it's important to know that established pharmaceutical options exist,” said Kamel.

However, intervention is frequently necessary. When people are depressed, they feel helpless, and often won't consider the option of reaching out to others. Awareness is key here.

Should you require counselling support, reach out to SADAG ( on the 24-hour helpline (0800 456 789) or SMS 31393.