More and more South Africans are realising the importance of mental health, according to a recent study.
Ipsos recently released a global discourse study on mental health, which found that 77% of South Africans think their mental health is as important as their physical health. The study also found that 32% South Africans believe that mental and physical health are treated equally by the healthcare system.
According to Mari Harris, Ipsos’s Sub-Sahara Africa knowledge director, South Africa ranks among the leading nations with a relatively strong belief in the prioritisation of mental health.
“Looking at the global findings, nearly four in every five (78%) people across 31 countries believe that their mental health is equally as important as their physical health. This sentiment is highest in Latin America, with Argentina (88%), Colombia (87%), and Peru (also 87%) emerging as the top three countries where this belief is most prevalent.
India witnessed a substantial shift in the perception of mental and physical health as being equally important from the previous year, experiencing a remarkable 17-percentage-point surge from 2022 (49%) to 2023 (66%),” she said.
Harris said countries in Asia are among the most likely to say that mental health is treated with equal attention by their healthcare system.
“In five Asian countries (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Singapore), a majority believe mental well-being is treated with an equal level of priority as physical health,” she said.
South African clinical psychologist Dr Khosi Jiyane said overall the study indicates that there is an increase in the awareness of the importance of mental health globally.
“More countries around the world are dismantling the barriers that barricade health. The barricade of the health system often divides physical and mental health. The Asian health system has always maintained a holistic healing approach in health, while the western system has always possessed a fragmented approach in which divides health. Many South African medical aids still do not have allocation for mental health,” she said.
Lindokuhle Hlatshwayo, a social worker, said though large South Africans recognise the importance of mental health, attention should also be paid to the 32% who believe mental and physical health are treated the same in South Africa and consider why this number is low.
“Until the concept of mental health is as widely spoken about as HIV, we cannot say mental and physical health are on equal scale in South Africa. I recall a time when there was a rollout of television, radio and print campaigns on HIV, dismantling the stigma and educating ordinary South Africans. You don’t see that on mental health. There were memes circulating in South Africa about African parents misunderstanding mental health and depression. Though these memes were shared in the context of banter, there was a lot of truth in how elderly Africans, for example, understand mental health,” she said.