South Africa needs sustainable
solutions to deal with its mental health treatment gap, delegates heard at a
recent roundtable discussion at the University of Cape Town ahead of World
Mental Health Day (WMHD) on Tuesday this week.

The discussion on “Economy,
Equality and Access to Mental Health Services” was hosted by the Alan J Flisher
Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH).

The
roundtable discussions reiterated that mental health was becoming an
increasingly unbearable burden for the country’s economy. Chaired by the CPMH’s
co-director, Prof Ashraf Kagee of Stellenbosch University, the presentations
and discussions centred on the need for lasting solutions to the mental health
treatment gap.

CPMH grew
out of a shared vision and collaboration between UCT’s Department of Psychiatry
and Mental Health, and Stellenbosch University’s Psychology Department. It is
the only mental health and psychiatry World Health Organization (WHO)
Collaborating Centre in South Africa.

CPMH’s
Sumaiyah Docrat presented an economic case for investing in mental health in
South Africa.

“In South Africa,
severe depression and anxiety disorders are associated with a significant
reduction in earnings for both employed and unemployed adults living with these
conditions.”

Docrat
noted that studies show an estimated lost income in South Africa of US$4 798
per adult per year (around R43 182 in 2013) due to mental illness.
The total annual cost amounts to US$3.6 billion (around R32.4 billion
in 2013) – a contrast to the estimated US$59 million (around
R539 million in 2013) estimated annual government spending on mental
health services.

Other
presenters included Petrus de Vries, professor of child and adolescent
psychiatry at UCT, Dr Simone Honikman and Charlotte Mande Ilunga of UCT’s
Perinatal Mental Health Project, Dr Jo Hart and Dr Lucie Byrne-Davis of the
University of Manchester, and Professor Lou-Marie Kruger of Stellenbosch
University.

Their
discussions highlighted a desperate need for in-depth investment by the South
African government into sustainable mental healthcare.

“Our
government and many governments on our continent, and in fact around the world,
need to make public funds available to address the mental health treatment
gap,” said Kagee.

“There is
considerable evidence that mental health conditions are treatable and that
patients can experience relief from these disorders. Our politicians,
policymakers and decision makers need to develop the political will to make
funds available so that more posts for psychiatrists, psychologists,
counsellors and social workers can be created.”

Addressing
the international WMHD theme, CPMH co-director Prof Katherine Sorsdahl of UCT
spoke about mental health in the workplace. She emphasised that work is
essential for mental health and vice versa.

Referring
to a study conducted in South Africa among the advertising and market research
industries, Sorsdahl said, “Of the 1 060 employees who participated in the
online survey, 26% reported a diagnosis of depression. The results of this
study found that the costs associated with presenteeism were significantly
higher than that of absenteeism.”

SOURCE: UCT Communication
and Marketing Department