World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is a global event that is celebrated annually on the 10th October with the aim of reflecting on existing mental health challenges, on gaps in policies, on identifying priorities in a collaborative effort, and by unifying voices as catalysts for change. It is the only annual event of its kind dedicated to uniting global communities’ calls for action and reform in the mental health sector through local, regional and national commemorative events and programmes. Apart from raising awareness, the day also aims to create lasting change in a world where the need to restore the dignity of all people living with mental disorders is important. Since 1992, WMHD has consistently put the spotlight on mental health and highlighted experiences by societies across the world. This year, the occasion will be utilised to call for stronger resource commitments through the implementation of policies that support investing in mental health.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) supports the World Federation for Mental Health’s (WFMH) theme for WMHD on an annual basis, and seeks to contextualise the theme and its relevance for South Africans. This year, WMHD comes at a point in time that no one could have foreseen 12 months ago. The theme “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access,” aims to address the need to promote early access to care, prevention of mental health problems and the promotion of mental wellbeing against the backdrop of COVID-19. The global pandemic has brought the need for investment in mental health into sharp focus after years of underfunding and neglect.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 50% of people with mental disorders in high income countries do not receive treatment, while 85% of persons in low-and middle income countries have no access to treatment. The inconsistencies and limited access to mental health treatment currently stands in South Africa’s way of satisfying the Standard Treatment Guidelines, which aims to provide quality of health for all and ensure more equitable health services for all citizens in the country. According to the WFMH, the mental health consequences of COVID-19 increased weight on the already “overburdened mental health landscape in which the number of people living with depression and or anxiety increased by nearly 50% from 416 million to 615 million”.
In South Africa, there are significant disparities in mental health personnel across provinces, with mental health services largely inaccessible to people accessing public health facilities. Personnel shortages have resulted in the Mental Health Care Act (2002) not being fully complied with and at the same time, this lack of capacity compromises care for mental health care users, especially those in desperate need of community-based mental health services to aid their recovery journeys after leaving inpatient care.
Failure to invest in mental health has resulted in constraints on global health systems and has limited access to treatment, impacting on individuals’ rights to wellness and health, which has been exacerbated by the current pandemic. This year’s WMHD theme calls on global leaders to commit to ensuring that access to treatment for people with mental health disorders is expedited and that treatment is made more readily available to all the populations.
This October, SAFMH stands in unity with organisations that are calling on governments across the globe to act swiftly in making mental healthcare a priority and ensuring that it is accessible to everyone everywhere. The investment should not only be in monetary terms, but also through support for initiatives and organisations that are already committed to mental health and the empowerment of communities through awareness campaigns. SAFMH calls on the South African government to review existing policies on mental health, empower provinces through equitable allocation of resources and commit to higher levels of spending on mental health.
SAFMH unconditionally support the call from the WFMH: “Our call is a simple one – let us hold hands and unify our voices in moving the mental health investment agenda for increased focus and access to mental health and thereby making mental health a reality for all – everyone, everywhere”. But while it is a simple call, in that what is being asked for is clear and easy to grasp, achieving it might not be that simple as it requires concerted efforts from the South African government to start placing more emphasis on mental health – in 2020 and beyond.