Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has acknowledged that mental health services have and continue to be inequitably distributed, fragmented and inadequately resourced and characterised by significant provincial variability in South Africa.
"The results of the 2008 survey by the College of Medicine show that in the public sector, in Mpumalanga province, there was one psychiatrist and 111 in Gauteng, out of a total of 302 public sector psychiatrists.
"We know that there continues to be over-reliance on psychiatric hospitals as the mode to care, treatment and rehabilitation, we followed colonial practices and adopted a hospi-centric approach and neglected the critical aspects of primary health care," said the minister at a two-day National Mental Health Summit in Pretoria on Thursday.
He said it was an offence against the Constitution and against human rights to neglect the worst off in a society.
"... because of their condition, mental health care users are often 'voiceless' and it is critical that we both give this group the space to voice their needs and then respond appropriately through including mental health in all health plans and programmes," Motsoaledi said.
According to the South African Stress and Health Survey (SASH), only one in four of people with a mental disorder had obtained some form of treatment; this is in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) surveys that show that between 76 percent and 85 percent of people with severe mental disorders in low and middle income countries receive no treatment.
Motsoaledi stressed that resource, infrastructure and social mobilisation plans and employment targets must take mental health issues into consideration.
He challenged the summit to propose clear targets on the different categories of mental health human resources to be produced by 2016/17, which should include bringing back the post-basic psychiatric course, which was done away with.
"To meet the need, we must increase the production and employment of other mental health professional categories too. At the same time, we must ensure that mental health does not become the sole domain of dedicated mental health practitioners but that mental health becomes integral to the training of all health professionals, especially those that work in primary health care services.
"We need to scale up investment on our community-based mental health services and reverse the trend of institutionalised care. We must examine how mental health will be integrated into general health care and particularly into primary health care."
High levels of mental illness have been found to co-occur with infectious diseases such as HIV and Tuberculosis as well as non-communicable diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus among others.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood and ability to relate with others, resulting in a diminished capacity for coping with ordinary demands of life.