THE MENTAL HEALTH TOLL of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been equal. While the stress of job loss, isolation, anxiety and grief has touched everyone worldwide, accessibility to mental health care services has been almost unobtainable for most South Africans, simply because they cannot afford the care when they need it most. October is Mental Health Awareness month, and this month, Cape Mental Health is raising awareness about ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ and calling for specific actions to facilitate greater equality for all living with a mental health condition.

At least one in four people will need mental health treatment in South Africa and, with the stress of mounting unemployment, serious illness and anxiety, the need is growing. People who need the most support are those more vulnerable to psychosocial conditions and who have been affected by poverty, uncertainty, gender-based violence and trauma. Those who can afford access to private mental health care have a better chance at treatment and recovery. Unfortunately, most South Africans cannot afford private health care treatment, and struggle in silence because they cannot access free or affordable mental health services timeously.

Government has allocated only 5% of its health care budget to mental health care services. Currently, our mental health care system is focused on treating the most severe conditions, and its budget is funds mostly long-term, high-care and severely ill patients and infrastructure rather than focusing on preventing or providing early interventions. Only a small percentage is allocated to primary health care and community-based mental health interventions.

The Chief Executive Director of Cape Mental Health and the President of the World Federation for Mental Health, Dr Ingrid Daniels, has announced the theme for World Mental Health Day 2021 as ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’.  This theme will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal. It is a sad reality that between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle-income countries were unable to access mental health services at all, while accessibility in high-income countries was not much better. The lack of investment by governments worldwide into mental health care is disproportionate to their overall health budget, and this contributes to the mental health treatment gap.  

We need to act and act now with urgency. World Mental Day is on 10 October, and this campaign ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ will enable us to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality locally and globally. Join Cape Mental Health this month and make it everyone’s business advocate for:

  • An integrated plan from the Government to improve and increase the access to mental health care treatment for all South Africans, irrespective of their income.
  • A proportionate increase of government funding for mental health services and specifically community-based mental health interventions.
  • Additional support for women who have beared the brunt of this pandemic either because they have lost a loved one, their income or home, or have been subjected to domestic violence because of increased tension in the home and being locked in with little escape from their intimate violent partner during COVID-19.
  • Additional mental health care services in rural areas so that people do not need to travel long distances just to get the treatment they need.
  • Challenging the stigma around mental health matters and promoting access to mental health services so that people with lived experience of mental health are fully integrated into all aspects of life. 
  • Urgent implementation of the National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013–2020.

“This year’s theme is a stark reminder of the great deal of work yet to be done in not only raising awareness but also in finding sustainable policy solutions that will enable both public and private stakeholders to place mental health at the top of the agenda.  The City of Cape Town has invested in mental health interventions by focusing on psychosocial welfare and awareness programmes. In order to counter the stigma around mental health all Capetonians are challenged to confront this issue and to raise awareness and acceptance around mental health.” – Dr Zahid Badroodien, MMC: Community Services & Health, City of Cape Town

For more information For more information please visit: https://capementalhealth.co.za/

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