What the Numbers Say
Recent statistics have revealed that about a third of the population in South Africa is dealing with mental health problems. Since the study excluded adolescents and children, and also didn’t take into account disorders like ADHD, bipolar disorder, and OCD, that number can be taken to be much higher. That means more than a third of the country’s population is currently suffering from some kind of mental health problem. Why an alarming statistic such as this doesn’t garner more support and urgent efforts simply doesn’t make sense. The close correlation between mental and physical health is plain, with mortality rates rising among those suffering from eating disorders and suicide rates among schizophrenics especially going up year on year. Industry specialists are attempting to adapt the narrative, by reasoning that brain failure can be likened to heart failure, and should be treated with the same urgency. However, the necessary shift is slow, with much more needed to bring about the required changes in policy that will see mental health receive the acknowledgment and government support in resources and funding that it so rightfully deserves.
It can be argued that South Africa has a deep-rooted history of playing to stigma as well cultural and traditional falsehoods surrounding mental health problems that have resulted in the current situation. In the past, so many of the current illnesses and disorders were unheard of. Someone suffering from ADHD was labeled as lazy and stupid, a depressive was likely dealt with in much the same sense of disregard, perhaps told to ‘brighten up’ or ‘shake it off’ and keep going. For centuries people were told that their mental illness could be dealt with by simply changing their minds or attitudes, and many still hold that assumption today – that someone dealing with mental health problems can control their situation in this simplistic way. Beliefs this deeply-seated will not be changed overnight, but the silver lining as that they can be changed. Education and awareness will help to shift the mindset and also the narrative surrounding mental illness in South Africa. When people realize the enormity of the risk these conditions pose on an individual’s wellbeing, a community, the country’s economy and populace vitality, they will understand the significance of medical intervention. And as a result, proper access to quality care underscored by adequate resources and funding will follow.
So, What Can We Do About It?
South Africa didn’t become the country it is today by resting on laurels or lying back in defeat. We are a population of fighters, who have quite literally shaped our futures through undying hope for better, and refusing to compromise. This attitude is what will help lead South Africa into a new era of acceptance and responsibility. Starting with yourself you can change the perspectives of those around you – your friends, family, even your community – through raising awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Educating yourself will put you in prime position to spread that education to others. It will also allow you to reach out to people suffering from mental health problems, giving them the support they often lack. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, people tend to be singled out and shunned by peers and even employers, which leads them to suffering in silence. By being able to spot the signals, and approaching with care and compassion, you can help change the lives of those who are so often forgotten and lost in a system designed to leave them by the wayside. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little help in contacting the right people who can help with the situation, and once the person is able to receive treatment, they will then go on to manage their condition and live a full and satisfying life. On a grander scale, the bigger picture of shifting South Africa’s focus with regard to mental health can be approached by joining up with organizations poised to bring about that change. They depend on people to use word of mouth to reinforce the education and awareness strategies they employ. In doing so, enough people will be talking about the right topics in the right way, and authorities will have no choice but to sit up and pay attention.