Mental illnesses on the rise in SA

Xoliswa Zulu

Worldwide, psychiatric illnesses will rise to be the number one cause of disability within the next 15 years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO also estimates that 400 million people around the world currently suffer from mental or neurological disorders or from psychosocial problems such as those related to alcohol and drug abuse.

Gita Harie, executive director of the Durban and Coastal Mental Health Association, said: "Mental health is the nation's wealth we take it for granted and we forget that there is an interrelationship between our physical and mental well-being.

"Depression statistics among women are shocking, and statistics show that 41,9 percent of women, compared to 24,3 percent of men, are affected in the country. Other studies have shown that people wait for 11 months (on average) to see a doctor when they are not feeling well and they are only diagnosed after the fifth visit."

She added that with the high suicide statistics among adolescents, parents needed to create safe and supportive environments for their children. In South Africa, 150 000 people commit suicide every year, with the rate among children aged between 10 and 14 having more than doubled in the past
15 years.

"What are these stats saying to us? We have the responsibility to work with adolescents, create safe and supportive environments and manage our adolescent children with consistent rules and boundaries," said Harie.

"We need to stop pushing them in the direction of feeling worthless. Guide your child and respect the decision or options that your child chooses so that they are in control of their lives."

She advised parents to equip their children with skills to cope with life's stresses, have rules and boundaries in the home, but also learn to negotiate and let them know that, with freedom, comes responsibility.

Winnie de Roover, from the Mental Health Information Centre at the University of Stellenbosch, said between one and three percent of South Africans suffered from a mental health problem, which required them to be admitted to hospital.

She said: "Nearly 20 percent of high school students a year think about fatally harming themselves. Roughly 25 percent of all general practitioners' patients are ill due to psychiatric rather than medical conditions."

She added: "Mental disorders have a significant negative social and economic impact on South African society. The costs of alcohol abuse through health and medical expenses, lost productivity, violence and crime, are more than R5-billion each year."

Unipolar depression, alcohol abuse, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder are among the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide and major depression was ranked fifth in the 10 leading causes of the global disease burden in 1998.

De Roover said: "It is important to understand that mental illnesses are treatable. The best treatment for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective. Between 70 percent and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports."

According to Gloria Mhlaluka, head of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the KwaZulu-Natal department of health, schizophrenia is the leading major illness in the province.

Designated hospitals in the province include: Town Hill hospital in Pietermaritzburg, Mandeni Hospital, Mngeni hospital, King George, Lady Smith, Port Shepstone, Ngwelezane, Fort Napier, St Francis, Ekuhlengeni and Benedictine hospitals.

For more information about the Durban and Coastal Mental Health Association, telephone 031 207 2717.